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Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue climbs stairs for cancer research

On Sunday, 44 TVF&R members competed in Seattle's Scott Firefighter Stairclimb to raise money to fight cancer


When Allen Kennedy made his way up the 69 flights of stairs of the Columbia Center in Seattle, it was his 16th time doing so. His 16th time donning all 50 pounds of his firefighting gear, steel-toed boots and all, and clambering up to the top of the building to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Public Affairs Officer Stefan Myers (left) and Firefighter Jonathan Odell stand on the observation deck of the 788-foot-tall Columbia Center after charging up 69 flights of stairs.

On Sunday, 44 members of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue headed to Seattle to participate in the 24th Annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. So far this year, TVF&R has raised over $40,000 for the cause, and hopes to reach $50,000 by the end of this month, said Kennedy, TVF&R Division Chief who covers operations in Tigard, King City and Sherwood. During the past nine years, TVF&R has raised over $270,000.

“I do it in memory of one of my partners who died of cancer; she was a firefighter paramedic who died at 36,” said Kennedy. “That pushed me over the edge to stay in it. We each have something to connect to like that.”

For the event, 1,710 firefighters came together from places as far away as New Zealand and Chile. The motivation, Kennedy said, comes from two places. One is that the firefighters want to beat their previous times and finish well as a team. The other, larger motivational factor comes from the faces on each floor of current cancer fighters and those who didn’t make it, or from personal experiences with loved ones.

“I just lost a dear friend a month ago to leukemia, so I had extra fire in my belly this year. I was climbing for him. That’s my motivation,” said Geoff Goodman, a paramedic at Station 66 and Beaverton resident. “I was climbing in honor of my friend the last few years, and this year I was climbing in his memory. They are fighting, so why can’t I?”

Goodman, who’s been participating in the Stairclimb for about 12 years, was the fastest TVF&R member to the top on Sunday, with a time of 13 minutes, 3 seconds. And even though he was the fastest, he couldn’t remember if it was a personal best for him or not. As he said, “That’s not why I do it.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Firefighter Jonathan Odell and Public Affairs Officer Stefan Myers gear up in line as they prepare to race up 1,311 steps to the top of the Columbia Center as part of a team effort to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

To prepare for the competition, many of TVF&R’s members train on treadmills with all of their gear on, including air tanks, to get used to the extensive workout and strain brought on by rapidly climbing 788 feet of vertical elevation. For over ten years, they’ve had a partnership with the U.S. Bancorp Tower, which allows them to train in the stairwells after hours.

“There’s only one way to train and there’s no better way than going into a high rise and putting on your gear and climbing the stairs — there’s not many evenings where there aren’t firefighters in there climbing,” Kennedy said. “We train for months in advance for this. It’s not the kind of thing you can just get up and do.”

Having competed four times, Marissa Martinis, a firefighter and emergency medical technician out of Station 57 in West Linn, is already plotting her training plan for next year, just days after making the climb.

“It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s something you can train for. It’s a competition with yourself and looking at what your teammates and people from across the country can do,” she said. “My favorite part is the fundraising. Asking people for money is hard, but they get to follow it along and see what other people and departments are raising. It’s not just you write a check and off it goes, it keeps people interested and pulled in.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - A team from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue logged the third fastest time in racing up 69 grueling flights of stairs to the finish line on the observation deck of the Columbia Center in Seattle during Sunday's Scott Firefighter Stairclimb. That team included Lt. Geoff Goodman, 13 minutes and 3 seconds; Lt. Chris Hart, 14 minutes and 16 seconds; and Firefighter Colin O'Reardon, 14 minutes and 17 seconds.

After 16 consistent years of participating in the fundraiser, it’d be easy for the members of TVF&R to hang their hats on a job well done, but that isn’t what they’re doing. After starting out with just four team members, including Kennedy, the goal has always been to involve more people and raise as much money as possible for a cause that effects so many people.

“This is a competition second and a fundraiser first for leukemia and lymphoma. There’s really that personal side to committing to doing something like this,” Kennedy said. “We’ve all been hit around us with people who have cancer, so there’s that commitment — it kind of weighs heavily on the team and that’s really why we’re doing this.”

Sixty-nine flights of stairs, 1,311 steps, 50 pounds of gear and a lot of motivation are what get the firefighters to the top of the tower every year, and the motivation seems as though it will propel them for years to come.

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