Climb of a lifetime

Imagine 69 flights. That’s 1,311 stairs. Vision a 788-foot hike straight up. Imagine piling on close to 70 pounds of bunker gear, oxygen tank and breathing apparatus. Now take those stairs as fast as you can, with hundreds of firefighters alongside you.

For a group of firefighters from North Whidbey Fire District this isn’t something to only be imagined. This Sunday, March 2, they will be among the 1,400 firefighters from 180 departments from across the country who will race up the stairs of the Columbia Center — the second tallest building west of the Mississippi — in the largest single firefighter competition in the world, the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb.

“It’s tough, there’s video online of firefighters reaching the top and getting sick,” said firefighter/EMT Chance Carshens. “This will test you.”

The record for the climb is 11 minutes, eight seconds. The firefighters only get one oxygen bottle change — when they reach the 40th floor. The local firefighters say no one among them is aiming for a record-setting climb; they’re simply going strong to reach the top.

“We’re all about the community and bringing back traditions in the fire service,” said Capt. McCarthy, a firefighter/EMT with the North Whidbey Fire District, who is also the president of the North Whidbey Firefighters Association.

McCarthy said the asssociation is making an effort to extend its community outreach.

“We’re an all-volunteer department,” said firefighter/EMT Matt Buchholz. “We’re dedicated to helping the community and volunteering our time to efforts such as this.”

In 2007, the annual stairclimb brought in a record $365,000 for blood-cancer research and patient services through The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Oak Harbor resident Emily MacCormick gladly dropped a donation in a firefighter boot last Friday for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I always support everything the firefighters do,” she said.

It was all waves and smiles as children and their parents passed Capt. McCarthy and his crew of North Whidbey firefighters outside of Wal-Mart.

“We’re really looking forward to this and hope to represent North Whidbey well,” McCarthy said.

The stairclimb in Seattle will be filled with just as much pomp and circumstance as sweat and tears. The day is one of excitement and firefighting traditions. Bagpipe bands will play and the anticipation will build through the gear checks until they’re given a “go.”

“It’s our first year going so we’ve had a learning curve as far as how to train, but we’re all just having fun and looking forward to it,” McCarthy said.

In addition to the firefighters’ weekly drill nights with North Whidbey Fire and Rescue, the stairclimb team has put in extra workout hours running and on the stairclimber.

The North Whidbey Firefighters are trying to raise as much money as they can for the cause. They stood outside Wal-Mart last week to gather donations and practice for their climb on a stair-stepper.

The firefighters have T-shirts available with their stairclimb team’s design printed courtesy of All Quality Stitch. They’re free to people who donate at least $20 to the cause. The black with red T-shirts bear a big, bold “Relentless,” the motto for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

McCarthy said the firefighters are simply encouraging people to donate, as no amount is too small and everything adds up in the fight against leukemia and lymphoma.

Change collection jars at local businesses have also been a part of the fundraising. The BBQ Joint has a tip jar going for the firefighters, and Oak Harbor Auto, Carla’s Sheer Inspiration and Windermere have also been collecting funds for the firefighters.

The North Whidbey firefighters say they are happy and honored to be able to help raise awareness and money to help those faced with cancer. Even after this weekend’s climb, they will continue to collect donations through March 31.

“Hopefully we’ll come back and be able to tell everyone how well we did,” Carshens said.

For more information about events hosted by the North Whidbey Firefighter’s Association — such as its annual Easter egg hunt and pancake breakfasts — visit

To learn more about the intense climb these local firefighters will take, visit To make a donation to the North Whidbey team, call Capt. McCarthy at 914-1039 or email

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates