Off the Press

March 9, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

EFR firefighters step up to fight cancer

Chantelle Lusebrink Press reporter

Winded, Eastside Fire & Rescue Capt. Craig Hooper pealed off his bunker gear and gulped in air on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center in Seattle March 8.

His first thought upon hitting the last of 1,311 stairs?

“Thank God, I’m done,” he said.

It is the fourth year Hooper, who is also the union president for local 2878, has participated in Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The event challenges firefighters to climb 69 of the tower’s floors in full firefighting gear, which can weigh more than 60 pounds.

Eleven of his fellow EFR firefighters made the climb that day with him, he said.

“It’s the challenge of raising money for leukemia and the challenge of climbing the stairs both,” that makes him come back year after year, Hooper said.

It is the eighth year EFR firefighters have participated in the event.

They were joined by other local firefighters and firefighters from as far away as Massachusetts, Florida, Canada, New Zealand and Germany. This year 1,530 firefighters participated, setting a new record for the event’s attendance.

“It has been really entertaining just to see my fellow friends and firefighters go through,” said Julie Frantz, a volunteer firefighter with EFR who was a support volunteer at the event’s halfway point. “All of the guys and women are inspiring and their endurance is amazing. It’s definitely motivational and inspiring.”

At the event’s halfway point, firefighters can come out of the stairwell to exchange their oxygen tank, grab water or take a brief rest. Firefighters who are racing in the event often complete the 69 floors without exchanging their tank or stopping.

“It’s for a really good cause,” said Matt Gardner, a firefighter with EFR who was helping Hooper with his gear at the finish line. “I’m very impressed.”

Upon reaching the last stair on the 73rd floor of the tower, firefighters have ascended 788 vertical feet. The fastest time in this year’s competition was 10 minutes, 55 seconds set by Missoula Rural Fire Department’s Kory Burgess, 27. The fastest woman’s time was 14 minutes and 36 seconds set by Georgia Sanz Daniels, 41, for Graham Fire and Rescue.

While competition certainly drives the firefighters to raise more money, there is also a personal connection to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for the men and women of EFR.

In 2006, firefighters raised money in support of Julia Harig – the twin sister of volunteer firefighter Emily Harig – who was diagnosed with leukemia July 2006 and died in April 2007.

“I think if we can make a difference in one person’s life, it’s important to climb,” Hooper said. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t make a difference for her in time, but if we keep raising money it will make a difference in someone else’s.

“It’s like the money we raise for MDA,” Hooper added, of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “There are 41 diseases and they found a cure for one, but that one made a huge difference to people living with it.

This year, EFR firefighters have raised more than $4,000 for the cause, Hooper said.

On March 22, thousands of people will participate in the 23rd annual Big Climb, which also benefits the society. That event is open to the public. To register go to www.BigClimb.org.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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