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Navy Region Northwest firefighters climb for a cure

Navy Region Northwest firefighters train in full gear for the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The event is March 7 at the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Navy Region Northwest firefighters train in full gear for the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The event is March 7 at the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Eight Navy Region Northwest firemen are on a mission to battle blood cancer.

Next month they’ll travel to Seattle to take part in the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that involves a grueling 69-flight climb.

That’s 1,311 steps and 788 feet in vertical elevation gain. In other words, it’s a quarter-mile climb, straight up, complete with full fire gear and self-contained breathing apparatus. The gear weights about 50 pounds.

Water stops are stationed roughly every 10 floors, but it’s not like a road-race water station with little Dixie cups. It’s more of a spray-down. Each stop cools the climbers down, but the water soaks into their turnout gear­— the signature yellow firefighter getup — which adds extra weight and more resistance to the climb.

Fifteen-hundred firefighters from around the world will participate in the March 7 event that will take place in downtown Seattle at the Columbia Center, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi.

Team leader Jason Barron said there isn’t a first, second or third place, but there are incentives for each fundraising level.

Although the climb is timed, it’s not a race, per se.

“It’s a pride thing, to see who can make it to the top the fastest,” he said, adding that it’s mostly about the fundraising effort.

Top racers have clocked at eleven minutes, while the average participant can make the climb in 20 to 30 minutes, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Battalion Chief Sean Merrill has a personal reason to take up the challenge. A little over a year ago his 2-year-old cousin Becca was diagnosed with ALL B-cell type leukemia. After a rough start and more than a month at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for intensive chemotherapy, Becca is doing very well and anticipates her last treatment will late place this December.

“I’ve never participated in this type of fundraising with such a personal connection but after witnessing Becca’s courage and tenacity I knew that this was something that I had to do,” Merrill wrote on his donation page.

Firefighters Rob Berry, Jesse Berg, James Burks, Ian Walton, Russell Smiglewski, Rick Arnett, Kevin Paggao, Barron and Merrill are on the stairclimb team.

So far, they’ve collected $3,235. They hope to raise $4,000 or more by March.

The team will be at Wal-Mart Saturday, Feb. 20 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with a stairclimber to raise funds and help raise awareness of blood cancer.

Stop by or donate online at http://www.firefighterstairclimb.org, click on the “donate” button and type in the team name, “Navy Region Northwest Fire & Emergency Service.”

This year marks the 19th annual event. In 2009, more than 1,500 firefighters raised $640,000 for cancer research.

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