McCleary Firefighters Set to Climb Columbia Tower

seattle big climb
The McCleary firefighters are raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.


By Tom Rohrer

oly orthoWhen describing his train of thought marching up the Columbia tower, Paul Nott can’t pinpoint exactly where his mind goes.

“Lots of things go through your mind over 69 floors,” said Nott, a volunteer firefighter for McCleary Fire Station 89.  “It’s a wide range of thoughts, emotions.”

For the last three years, Nott and his co-volunteers from McCleary have participated in the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb benefitting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, like its sister event the Big Climb, ask participants to fund raise for cancer research organizations.  Following a fundraising period, the individuals take on the Columbia Tower’s 69 stories, which can take as long as an hour or as brief as 11 minutes (the event record) to complete.

seattle big climb
Seven members of the McCleary Fire Station 89 plan to reach the top of the Columbia Tower during the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb.

Unlike the Big Climb, the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb is completed solely by volunteer and career fire firefighters wearing their complete gear.

All seven members of the McCleary Fire Department, including Nott, Eric Cohen, Odd Debakker, Jeffery Geer, Mike Madison, Andrew Rudy and Don Sanders, are shooting to raise $7,500 prior to the event, which will be held on Sunday, March 9.

According to the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb website, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society provided financial aid for over 30,000 patients last year.

“It’s an easy cause to support and the motivation is there, without question,” said Cohen.

Fire Station 89 became aware of the event back in 2008 when station Chief Fred Keel passed away following his battle with leukemia.  Again, the diseases impact is personally felt by the department.

“We are climbing in support of a fellow firefighter’s cousin and friend to us all. This brave eight-year-old girl is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) every day,” noted Cohen. “Climbing in this challenge is the least we could do to help raise awareness and dollars to aid in finding a cure for her and others like her. We train hard and don’t quit because she doesn’t have the option of quitting.”

The motivation the firefighters gain from these cases is what pushes them through exhaustion to the top of the Columbia Tower.

“When you’re climbing, there are photographs of honorees in the stairwell,” said Nott. “You think about how it’s tough climbing, but it’s not as tough as what all these people go through. It changes you.”

seattle big climb
The team has been training locally in preparation for the 69 flights or 1,311 steps they will take in full firefighter gear to reach the top of Seattle’s Columbia Tower.

“It’s intimidating standing outside the building,” said Cohen. “But I think the motivation is what gets you up there.”

The past three years, the department has looked to fund raise internally through close friends and family.

“Our department helps our community as much as possible, but we don’t toot our own horn,” said Nott.  “We’ve never really advertised.”

“We have a supportive community and they will step up like always,” noted Cohen.

Nott believes that the group has downplayed their efforts because of the community oriented make-up of every individual in the department.

“These guys are wired right and want to help the community,” he said. “Even if these guys weren’t firefighters, they would be the first to help their neighbor chase down a cow or put out a fire. That’s how we roll.”

To simulate the physical challenge they will face in Seattle, the department trains three days a week as a group.  McCleary is not known for sky-scrapers, meaning the department must go elsewhere to find the appropriate stair flights.

“We’re fortunate that Providence St. Peter’s Hospital allows us to come there and we train on location three times a week,” said Nott. “Some guys also take on the nuclear power towers in Satsop.”

While sufficient for training, those locations do not offer the same view as the west coast’s second tallest building.

seattle big climb
The McCleary firefighters are raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“The view and getting a chance for a little bit of oxygen are equally impressive,” Nott said with a laugh.  “It’s pretty rewarding in so many ways to get to the top.”

Prior to and during the climb, the McCleary firefighters have a chance to connect with their peers.  The event draws departments from across the entire world, all of whom are connected through their job and the willingness to help others.

“In the stairwell, we’re all brothers,” Nott says. “We’re all there for the same cause. It’s pretty emotional and something you should see for yourself.”

After every McCleary firefighter completes the vertical journey, the group gets together with their families for a dinner at a nearby restaurant or at the community center in McCleary.  This year, wives of the firefighters will be volunteering at the event and the entire group will travel from McCleary together in a 15-person van donated for use by Whitney Chevrolet.

“Our families sacrifice so much during our training,” said Cohen.  “We like to give thanks to them and reward them for their hard work.  Without their support, it wouldn’t be possible.”

Nearly a half decade of climbing in the fundraiser has given the firefighters an experience they will never forget.  For Nott, an experience during last year’s event stands out among the rest.

“I watched a firefighter carry his son, who had leukemia, up the stairs at the beginning of the climb,” he said. “That’s something special, and was a huge moment for me.”

Underlying the climb is the unity between the fire department members.  Much like a family, the group has laughed and cried together over the course of their relationship.  Climbing together is another way for the seven individuals to strengthen their steel-tight bond even more.

“This event is another way to reinforce our brotherhood,” Cohen summarized.

For more information and to donate to McCleary Station 89’s Scott Firefighter Stairclimb fundraiser, click here.


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