Cancer being an occupational hazard that all firefighters face, Central Alberta firefighters are participating in a Herculean fundraising effort to support those affected by the disease.
Red Deer, Blackfalds, Penhold, Lacombe and Olds firefighters all have one or more teams in the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge on May 7 at the 55-storey Bow Building in Calgary. It’s the world’s highest firefighter stairclimb challenge.
The third annual event starts at 3,400 above sea level and rises 775 vertical feet. It is hosted by the Calgary Firefighters Benevolent Society, in support of Wellspring Calgary, which provides programs and support to firefighters and all community members dealing with cancer.
Dave Bain, team captain for the “Red Deer 2” team, and a training officer with Red Deer Emergency Services, said firefighters got involved because they thought it was a great cause and they have a new group of recruit firefighters. “We thought it would be a great idea to promote some group bonding. The training officers are the captains and the recruits are part of our team.”
Bain said firefighters have mandatory fitness training at the beginning of every shift, so within that context the firefighters are training for the stairclimb. The recruits have a fitness period every day.
“It’s not going to be pleasant,” he said laughing. They are climbing the stairs in full firefighting gear, but not wearing their air tanks. “It is going to be strenuous. It’s going to be hard.”
The fundraising is occurring online and teams can be sponsored at calgarystairclimb.com.
“Every year more studies are coming out linking the dangers of our job. The toxins, the chemicals, all those sorts of things that we’re exposed to. Not just … hazardous materials, car accidents … but the way that homes and furniture and items are built now, all the plastics and chemicals, when they burn they give off gases and chemicals,” Bain said.
“It’s one of those things that it’s becoming an inherent part of the job, where maybe we didn’t realize it years ago. The more we can learn, the more we can treat these things, the better.”
Bain said that firefighters today have better gear, and are better at keeping their gear clean and decontaminating it. The newest firehall in Red Deer has a sauna, which promotes the sweating out of the toxins firefighters have been exposed to after a fire.
Alberta has legislation where the Workers’ Compensation Board may presume that 11 cancers that firefighters get are the result of their occupation. More provinces are following, Bain said.
There are 1,204 steps involved in the stairwell of the Bow Building, Western Canada’s tallest building.
Top racers in the past have finished in as little as eleven minutes. The average participant takes about 25 minutes to finish.
“I’m counting on the recruits to carry me up halfway,” 41-year-old Bain said, adding he hopes they will be able to return to the Bow Building ground floor by elevator.