The Wrangell Fire Department is gearing up to fight cancer in the twenty-sixth annual Scott Firefighters Stairclimb. The contest, which takes place in March, times firefighters from all over the country and the world as they climb 69 floors up Seattle’s Columbia Tower.
Six Wrangell firefighters are competing in the climb. Adam Sprehe, Dorianne Sprehe, Jordan Buness, Dustin Johnson, Chris Hatten and Walter Moorhead will race up 1,356 steps in full fire gear.
Volunteer Firefighter Moorhead explained there’s technically no winning the event. The money raised goes to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s research, but it doesn’t mean it’s not competitive.
“You get a lot of firefighters together and they will start competing over something. This is for a good cause to get them using those efforts that way,” Moorhead chuckled.
There’s two ways teams compete: the time it takes to climb the steps and how much money each team raises. Wrangell placed third overall in per capita donations in 2016, raising about $16,500.
“Last year this one event raised $2.3 million. This year they’re hoping to up that to $2.5 million,” added Moorhead.
Participants enter the stairwell every 15 seconds, and some are faster than others. Moorhead said there’s plenty of passing other firefighters. Once they hit the fortieth floor, oxygen bottles are exchanged before the final leg.
“Then you continue on up and there are people up top to meet you and help you take off the hot firefighting gear,” Moorhead explained, “and have a bottle of water and recover. On the way down we take the elevator. “
Inevitably, there’s more than just raising money at work. Many of the climbers have family and friends who have died or struggled with cancer. Moorhead was one of many who strapped a picture of their loved ones to their helmets.
“I lost my wife. This was what was available, and it was good for me to do in a number of ways,” Moorhead said of his first time competing in 2016.
A picture of Moorhead’s wife, Carol Ross, was on every Wrangell helmet. Ross passed away in late 2015 from sarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
“Although she didn’t have leukemia, this was an avenue open to me to do something towards cancer research, and it all spills over into each other,” he said.
Individual climbers also compete to raise the most funds. Donations can be made to each climber in person, in firefighter boots at Wrangell grocery stores and First Bank. Donations can also be made to each climber online at www.llswa.org. The climb is set for March 12.