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By Dan Rudy 

Firefighters prepare for cancer fundraiser stairclimb

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Wrangell firefighter Walter Moorhead begins to climb 80 flights of stairs wearing full gear on Nov. 20. He will be one of six heading to Seattle in March to participate in the 25th Scott Firefighter Stairclimb.

Members of the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department are rising to a national challenge to combat cancer, putting together a team for next year's Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle.

Fire departments from around the world raise money for the annual event, sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Founded in 1949, the society is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to researching and treating various blood cancers.

Taking place on March 6, 2016, six Wrangell firefighters will climb 69 stories of the Columbia Center, the second-tallest skyscraper on the West Coast. Adam Sprehe, Dorianne Curley, Chris Hatton, Walter Moorhead, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Buness will be making the climb together, while fire chief Tim Buness will accompany them as the team's tank-changer.

"I'm super-excited that we have a bigger team," said Hatton, who made the climb last year with Curley and Sprehe.

Each firefighter has to climb 1,356 steps in full gear, which on the machine comes out to an equivalent of about 80 floors. Along with measured breathing, Moorhead has found that heat is the biggest thing to get used to.

"That's one of the big factors. It's very hot to exercise in firefighting gear," he said.

To train, the department has acquired a second-hand stair-climbing machine.

"It's pretty important for us to have our own machine because we've been kind of monopolizing the one at the pool," explained Moorhead, who will be making his first climb this year. Firefighters practice wearing full equipment, and the alarms hooked up to their air tanks can be disruptive for others exercising at the gym.

The department paid for half of the climbing machine's cost, with firefighters planning to hold fundraisers to raise the other $1,100.

"We thought about going door-to-door in our gear, but then thought maybe the homeowner might have a heart attack seeing us," Moorhead said. Instead, they might hold a pancake feed or car wash separate from the lymphoma drive.

For the climb itself, Buness explained the biggest fundraiser will be WVFD's stand during Midnight Madness on Dec. 4. Volunteers will sell cocoa and popcorn to holiday shoppers, and also take the opportunity to explain what it's all about.

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Walter Moorhead demonstrates how the firefighter's respirator mouthpiece is configured. Lights indicate how much air is left in the department's 30-minute tanks, and an alarm sounds when emptied. Wrangell firefighters participating in next year's charity stairclimb have to participate in full gear, including respirators and visors.

The stated mission of LLS is to find cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families in the meantime. $79.8 million was invested into research last year, funding 106 grants and supporting 350 projects in nine countries.

"It's a big thing to try to achieve," Hatton said of the drive.

"We are each required to raise a minimum to participate," Moorhead explained, or $300. Donors visiting the http://www.llswa.org website can search for the Wrangell page through the "Donate" menu. Once located, the page allows individuals to pick either the team or individual climbers to contribute to, and tracks the team's fundraising progress. Wrangell's VFD outpaced its goal by raising $4,797 last year, and this year the team has already raised around $3,500.

It's all in a good cause, and the practice has a practical benefit for local firefighting.

"I feel more comfortable with the gear, to work with," Moorhead said. "Since I've been doing this I've gotten to the point where I'm pretty organized."

 

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