Firefighters from across Canada and the U.S. will take steps next month to make life better for those living with and recovering from cancer.
A lot of steps – 1,204 to be exact.
May 1 will see up to 500 firefighters converge for the second annual Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge, where they’ll race up the Bow Building to raise money for Wellspring Calgary.
Oh, and they’ll also be wearing full duty gear while doing it, which weighs about 50 lbs.
Wellspring Calgary provides support, resources, and programs to improve the quality of life for people living with and recovering from cancer, and those who support them.
In a sense, while the medical system treats the cancer, Wellspring treats the person.
“Exactly, we’re not medical, we’re complimentary, so we deal with the body, mind, spirit and the effects after the diagnosis and treatment,” says Suzan Valenta, director of philanthropy for Wellspring Calgary. “Our vision is that no-one has to face cancer alone, so we provide free programs and resources to help people find that new normal, to, some people say pick up the pieces after a cancer diagnosis, which can be a devastating interruption in life.”
Last year’s effort raised more than $130,000 and assistant deputy Fire Chief Brian McAsey says they’re on track to beat that this time around.
It’s not officially a competition, but many of those who enter the firefighting field have, well, a fiery mindset, so things can get heated.
“Absolutely,” says McAsey. “There’s two parts, number one, people are raising money … and the second part is the actual physical part, and people are very competitive. We send them every 20 seconds so if you’re slower, you will get passed.”
The team raising the most money last year was D’s Knees from Horizon Emergency Services in Fort McMurray, who brought in $10,723.
Last year’s fastest times for men and women were both set by Calgary firefighters – Devin Featherstone did it in 11:43 and Kim Dunn did it in 13:55, both in full gear.
Calgarians are encouraged to cheer the firefighters on – 6 Ave will be closed between Centre and 1 St S.E. and a video screen set up so the crowd can watch them reach the top. A few of the firefighters will also be wearing helmet cams.
So far about 280 firefighters have signed up – ahead of last year’s number of 250, but still below the goal of 500.
The catalyst for the Calgary event was the line of duty deaths of firefighter Gord Paul and former Fire Chief Wayne Morris, who both succumbed to cancers developed from years on the job.
Completed in 2012, the Bow Building is 236 metres – or 58 storeys – high, making it the current tallest in western Canada.
And that can be a bit daunting when you’re standing at the bottom in full fire gear staring up, says McAsey.
“I remember the first seven or eight minutes I was running (in 2015) I thought, ‘I feel great, this is good,’ then you look up and wow, I’m on the 27th floor, I’m only a third of the way up,” he says.
“It slowly dawns on you how truly high that building is.”
Similar events are held around the world – Seattle has the biggest, raising more than $2 million annually – but at 1,045 metres above sea level, Calgary boasts being the highest.
For more info, to sponsor a firefighter or to donate, visit www.calgarystairclimb.com.