District 6 team joins annual fundraiser for leukemia research
On March 12, firefighters from Okanogan County Fire District 6 participated in the Columbia Tower Stairclimb to raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. It was the 13th year local firefighters have done the climb up the tallest building on the downtown Seattle skyline.
Jeremiah Fosness, Jeff Kingsbury, Ted Lafferty, Tiago Pacheco, Rick Zeeb and Jeff Kingsbury each collected pledges, trained and made the trek up the “World’s Largest Stairclimb,” involving 69 floors, 788 feet in elevation gain and 1,356 individual steps.
Mark Crum and Zack Gurney, annual regulars on the climb, sat out the event this year, nursing some nagging injuries, but did participate in the fundraising effort, which collected $24,232 from the Methow Valley community this year. Pacheco led the way for the locals, collecting over $15,000 for the cause (8th overall among all the firefighters from around the state who participated this year).
Each firefighter is dressed in full gear, including hat, fire suit, boots and breathing apparatus with bottle. Keith Comstock served as the chief bottle changer on the 32nd floor, basically equivalent to a pit stop in automobile racing. The firefighter arrives, a bottle is removed from the back, a new one is hooked up and secured, and then up the next flight they go on the way to the top.
The motivation to support leukemia patients and their families dealing and living with the disease comes from personal experience and a desire to do something positive.
“It’s grueling,” said Fosness, “and extremely hard to do in full gear. When I get to the top, I’m dripping in sweat and totally gassed out, but the 20 minutes of pain is nothing compared to what the patients (of leukemia) go through.”
Fosness told of how the stairwell walls are lined with photos of cancer patients from the start to the top. “Seeing those pictures, the people, the children. It makes you find the energy to keep going,” he said.
“And then, when there is a personal connection, it serves as even more motivation,” Fosness said.
“Last year we wore ribbons for Lucy,” Fosness said, referring to Liberty Bell High School student Lucy Riggs, who was stricken with the disease and is now in remission, competing on the Liberty Bell track and field team this spring.
There are also a number of firefighters participating in the Columbia Tower stairclimb that have been leukemia patients in the past and survive today thanks to advanced research and treatment. With permission, Fosness shared that Jeff Kingsbury, who made the climb this year as the fastest Okanogan County Firefighter, is a survivor of a childhood episode.
Of the 2,000 participants this year, Kingsbury’s time of 19:27 put him in the top 25% of the field in 408th place. He was 5 minutes ahead of teammate Ted Lafferty, who crossed the top step at 24:27. Pacheco’s finishing time was 25:25, Fosness was at 29:00 and Zeeb crested the top at 30:38. The team’s cumulative time was 2:09:59.
Craig Smith of Burnaby, British Columbia, was the overall fastest at 10:38 for contrast. Fosness did point out that while Smith was the fastest, everybody is the winner.
According to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, the Columbia Tower Stairclimb has raised over $20 million since its inception in 1991. Fosness and Crum have been involved for 13 years now as representatives of Fire District 6, which has raised more than $100,000 in that time.
Fosness and the rest of the crew have a passion for the cause. “We raise a bunch of money and awareness for a small department, which is a reflection on our community,” he said. “People are so generous and supportive, so we give it our best effort every year. This community helps be one of the top small departments for fundraising, and per capita, we do better than many big departments.”
“It’s an incredible experience,” he summarized. “As long as I’m a firefighter, I’ll do the Stairclimb. Completely worth it”.