What do four engineers, a firefighter and a battalion chief have in common?
No, it’s not the start of a firefighting joke … in fact, it was serious business but with a true spirit of camaraderie as a contingent of six Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District members traveled to the Seattle Stair Climb earlier this month. All proceeds benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Engineer Jeremy Smith, who works out of Station 28 on East G Street in Oakdale, was among the group and said they did the ‘climb’ on March 12.
What makes this event special is that it draws firefighters from all over the world to the Columbia Tower in Seattle where, in full turnout gear including air tanks and masks, the firefighters climb 69 stories. They make their way up seemingly endless flights of stairs with about 75 pounds of gear strapped to them.
Along with Smith, representatives from Stanislaus Consolidated included firefighter Hendrick Dewitte of Station 22 in Empire; engineers Jonathon Crenshaw of Station 21, Modesto; Kyle Oliveira of Station 27 on Willowood Drive in Oakdale; Kole Oliveira, a relief firefighter/engineer who covers many stations, and Battalion Chief Kevin Wise of Station 23.
“This is the first time for Consolidated to go,” Smith said. “Chief Wise has battled leukemia twice and Hendrick Dewitte’s son also is fighting leukemia.”
That made it a very personal trip for the half-dozen firefighters, who wanted to represent their area in the historic event.
“You need to sign up and you have to sign up early, the spots fill quickly,” Smith explained. “They only take 2,000 people.”
They learned of the Seattle Stair Climb event through Chief Wise, who has a friend in the fire service in Boise, Idaho that has taken part.
“Chief Wise and his family drove up, they hauled all our turnouts, our air packs,” noted Smith.
The rest of the group flew to Seattle, where they took on the Columbia Tower challenge, in the Bank of America building.
“We met guys from New Zealand, Austria, Germany, this year was the 26th year they have done it,” Smith said of the event.
The climb itself begins at 8 a.m. and it continues throughout the day, broken down in battalions of firefighters that take the stairs, each firefighter starting the climb 12 seconds after the one in front of him.
“The last guys went at 4:30 in the afternoon,” Smith said.
Each also got a ‘race packet’ and had to wear a wristband so their number could be tracked and their time officially recorded.
It’s not a traditional race, added Smith, as the goal is to make it safely up all the flights of stairs and raise money and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at the same time. Participants were provided with tools to raise funds through social media and could also give potential donors a link to the event.
“There were departments there with teams of 20 or 30 guys,” Smith said, noting that it is something Stanislaus Consolidated will do again – hopefully with more members making the trip.
Once they got into the tower and were ready to go, Smith said the enormity of it was a bit overwhelming.
“You’re in a line of 50 to 60 guys,” he said of taking a turn with an assigned ‘battalion’ on the 69 flights of stairs.
There were also photos of those who have battled – both those that won and lost the fight against cancer – at every floor along those 69 flights.
“In between floors 51 and 52, there was a picture of Kevin in the stairwell,” Smith said of the extra motivation to keep pushing.
“It’s not that you weren’t going to make it,” he said of finding the energy and drive to continue to the goal. “It was just the battle of making yourself do it. Then you think, Kevin beat cancer twice, nothing could have made it more clear. We had a short amount of pain (during the climb) but that’s nothing compared to what cancer patients go through.”
Smith had photos of Battalion Chief Wise on his helmet during the climb, along with that of his own 11-year-old niece, a cancer survivor, and other family members that have been touched by the disease.
“It was an amazing event,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to go again next year.”