Firefighters step up in climb for cure
A determined team of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue/ Local 1660 firefighters knew it would take heart, a competitive spirit and top conditioning to conquer their mission.
The challenge: Climb 69 flights of stairs and race up 1,311 steps in full, 50-pound firefighting combat gear, wearing boots and 23-pound air packs strapped to their backs.
The goal: Post the fastest time while raising as many donations as possible for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
For firefighters like Geoff Goodman of Tigard Station 51, the annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, held the first weekend in March at the towering Columbia Center in downtown Seattle, is more than a competition.
It's a test of will for a worthy cause.
'We're raising money for fighting blood cancers - that's our main goal,' Goodman said. 'I'm fortunate to be healthy and have a career I enjoy and that drives me to train harder because I know there are people out there fighting cancers and struggling.
'Raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is my way of battling for them.'
The 37-member TVF and R team was the second largest to participate in this year's event that attracted 1,311 firefighters from 156 different departments across the country, Canada and New Zealand.
'It's the largest firefighter competition in the world and each year it gets bigger,' said Capt. Allen Kennedy of Cedar Mill Station 60, who serves as the fire district's team captain.
This year marks the eighth year that the fire district has participated in the event. In that time, the team has raised more than $40,000 for the society. The team hopes to raise more than $15,000 this year through individual and family donations and corporate sponsorships, including a donation from HemCon Medical Technologies Inc. and Exercise Equipment Northwest.
The fire district will be collecting donations through March 31.
So far, the TVF and R crew is on pace to reach its goal, passing fund-raising efforts by other departments and moving into first place in garnering donations for the society.
The competition does not end there.
Each member of the team has individual performance goals for the grueling physical challenge.
'This worthwhile event is a tremendous commitment for the participants,' Kennedy said. 'Our team members spend months training for the event off-duty.'
The hours spent running hills, on stair-step machines, performing cardio and weight workouts and traveling to the US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland to train in its stairwell, paid off for several members of the team who claimed honors in the March 2 event.
'We've done well in the past, but this year we did great,' Kennedy said.
The team won second place in team time with the top three team members posting impressive finishes. Firefighter Ron Baker scaled the skyscraper in 13 minutes, 44 seconds with Engineer James Thornton coming in less than a second behind him, followed by Firefighter Geoff Goodman finishing in 14 minutes, nine seconds.
Baker also earned third in the Age 20 to 24 Male Division, while Thornton took second in the Age 40 to 44 Male and Masters Division.
The team also brought home two first-place awards with Battalion Chief Jim Davis Sr. winning the Age 55 to 59 Male Division and Firefighter Krissy Preim-Smith claiming the Age 20 to 24 Female Division.
Preim-Smith also posted the third fastest overall women's time by reaching the observation deck and crossing the finish line in 18 minutes, seven seconds.
Capt. Virgil Hall of Station 64 near Tanasbourne earned fourth in the Age 45 to 49 Male Division with his 16-minute finish.
So what was their secret?
'I wanted to win it,' said Preim-Smith of West Slope Station 65, who has participated in the event since joining the fire district in January 2004. 'I'm very competitive.'
She was in the first battalion of firefighters who entered the stairwell tower one at a time every 15 seconds.
'I try to keep an eye on the signs telling me how far I have to go,' Preim-Smith said. 'At the 20th floor I wondered, 'Why am I doing this?' but I kept pushing through and passed four people.
'When I saw the 70th floor sign, it was game on - it felt like I was about to blow out my lungs. Your energy kicks up because you're almost there.'
It helps to clear all pockets of tools not required for the event, she added.
Others on the team get into the zone by listening to music on their iPods.
In her first appearance at the event, Marissa Martinis of Aloha Station 62 helped kick her nerves with her favorite Lincoln Park and Paramour songs.
For others, the competitive edge comes from strategies of how to tackle the stairs.
'You look for ways to get in better shape and shave off pounds,' said Baker of Beaverton Station 67. 'You have to pace yourself and take it easy.
'As you get further up, you go a little faster.'
Skipping steps beyond the half-way point on the 40th floor is another time shaver, added Goodman.
'I zone out and listen to some good music that gets me in a nice groove,' he said. 'Toward the end, I double-step.'
With each grueling step, firefighters feel the burn.
'I grab hold of the rails with both hands, put my head down and hit the stairs in a kind of march,' said Thornton of Beaverton Station 67, who has participated in the event for 10 years. 'I try to keep a steady pace and make it a goal not to stop.
'I try to ignore the pain and fight my way through it. It's pretty amazing when you get up there.'
Preim-Smith agreed and said the rewards far outweigh the grind of the climb.
'It feels awesome to cross that finish line,' she said. 'They attack you and rip off your gear.
'Then you get to go sit down, relax and enjoy the beautiful view. It's so awesome to see everybody coming together for such a great cause. The competition can't be beat.'
For Martinis, completing the challenge was a huge accomplishment.
'I made it,' she said. 'It felt great, and I was really excited.
'Next year I hope to do better.'
Those interested in making a contribution to this year's effort can visit www.tvfr.com to make an online donation. Donations will be accepted until March 31. Checks payable to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society may also be mailed to Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, 20665 S.W. Blanton St., Aloha, 97007.