All fired UP

Climbing for a cause, Forest Grove firefighters raise money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by scaling steps inside one of the west's tallest buildings

One thousand, three hundred and eleven.

That's how many steps eight firefighters from Forest Grove Fire and Rescue ascended last Sunday inside Seattle's Columbia Center which, when measured by floors, is thought to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

Each donned 70 pounds of firefighting gear, including air tanks, and climbed 788 feet of vertical elevation inside the skyscraper. Individually and together, they conquered the 16th annual Scott Firefighter Stair Climb.

Lt. Joe Smith started things off for the Forest Grove department three years ago, when he soloed at the Seattle contest. Last year three local firefighters joined in, and this year the number grew to eight - including three women.

'It's kind of a neat deal,' said Dave Nemeyer, Forest Grove fire inspector. 'Joe has really done well to motivate our people to participate.'

An early morning assembly of helmeted, yellow-clad fire professionals and volunteers entered the center's lobby. Soon they were hoofing it up - and up, and up.

'You start out in the lobby and go up three escalators,' said Tony Carter, a Forest Grove firefighter and two-time Stair Climb contestant.

From there it's up to the individual whether to take the stairs at a run, a walk or a trudge.

Despite the immense physical effort of last year's competition, Carter is back at last partly because of the view.

'It's quite nice when you get to the top, and I decided it wasn't that bad,' he said.

The local participants were part of a 59-member team from the Tualatin Valley Professional Firefighters Union Local 1660, and they in turn joined 1,163 fire professionals from all over the world in supporting The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Firefighter/paramedic Will Murphy was Forest Grove's top finisher, placing 828th with a time of 25 minutes, 17 seconds. Jason Lawson was close behind in 880th place with a time of 26:25, and Mindy Ingebretson was third for the hometown heroes, placing 889th in 26:37.

Team members spent months preparing for the event, according to Nemeyer. They practiced off-duty 'in the stairwells of some of the tallest buildings in Portland, and worked on conditioning and other exercises' to get ready, he noted.

It was the third year that a team from Forest Grove made the trip to the Emerald City for the charity climb. Last year, the local firefighters union raised over $10,000 for the leukemia and lymphoma society, and this year's goal was $12,500, Nemeyer said.

In 2006, the Scott Stair Climb raked in a grand total of $336,000 for research that could one day lead to a cure for blood cancers.

Tony Carter, who joined the local fire department in 2005, clocked a 34:34 for 1,064th place.

'While you're climbing the stairs, physically you're asking yourself 'what have I gotten myself into?,'' said Carter, 28. 'But when you consider what the people affected by these different cancers are going through, the pain from climbing stairs is nothing compared to that.'

Carter's younger brother, Joe Olson, a first-timer, was back in the pack in 1,135th place - but he finished nonetheless.

Nemeyer underscored the grit of each hearty participant.

'It takes 69 flights of stairs to reach the observation deck overlooking the city,' he said. 'This is the largest individual firefighting competition in the world.'

Firefighters raise money through private donations and often dedicate their stair climb to an individual who has survived or succumbed to cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma or Hodgkin's disease.