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Climbing stairs for a cause

Four Barrhead firefighters prepare to climb the stairs of Calgary’s tallest tower to raise money for cancer
BRFS members Jorge Leon, Brian Lamha (top right), Joshua Kelly (bottom left), and Hayden (Legacy) Sabiston (bottom right) are preparing to take part in the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge on June 11 in Calgary.

BARRHEAD - Four Barrhead Regional Fire Services (BRFS) firefighters will be climbing the stairs of Calgary's tallest building in modified turnout gear to help raise money for Wellspring Alberta during the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge.

Wellspring Alberta is a charity that devotes itself to helping people living with cancer and their families and caregivers with the non-medical impacts of the disease.

The challenge, which will be held on June 11 at Brookfield Place, Calgary's tallest tower, will see firefighters from all over the province climb 57 stories or 1,370 steps in firefighting gear, individually or as part of a relay team — the Barrhead quartet decided to compete individually as they wanted to complete the entire 57 stories rather than divide it up.

For Brian Lamha, a five-year BRFS veteran and Jorge Leon, this will be their second time participating in the challenge, but their first time in person as last year, due to the pandemic, they took part virtually. This year, they will be joined by fellow BRFS firefighters Hayden Sabiston and Joshua Kelly.

Lamha said they first learned about the event during a joint coldwater/ice training event in 2021 in a firefighter from another department.

"Firefighters are one big fraternity, and cancer is a cause that hits home with us," he said. "Not only because everyone knows someone who has been impacted by cancer, but because firefighters are more susceptible to cancer."

According to the Association of Worker’s Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), cancer is the number one cause of line-of-duty firefighter deaths. That is not surprising as chronic exposure to heat, toxic smoke and other byproducts of fire put firefighters at high risk for developing cancer.

As for how the group are training for the event, Lamha said as firefighters, the job requires them to be in good physical condition all the time, which is one of the reasons why the BRFS, through their fundraising arm Grizzly Trail Fire Rescue Association, built a gym at the fire hall for the use of its members and other first-responders.

But having said that, Lamha noted that preparing to climb up 57 flights of stairs does require additional preparation.

He said because they all have day jobs, each with unique schedules, a lot of their training is done separately.

However, Lamha said there is some commonality in all their training routines.

"The best way to train to climb stairs is to climb stairs," he said.

For their first stair climb, Lamha and Leon arranged with the Town of Barrhead to use the Agrena stairwells.

But this time, the quartet is mainly using the stairs of the BRFS multi-story sea-can apartment training village.

"I can't begin to tell you how many flights of stairs I have gone up and down," Lamha said, adding most of the training sessions are in full-turn-out gear, including boots, pants, coat, helmet and air tank, which adds about an additional 70 pounds. "But if you train hard now, it will be easier on the day."

He also noted the benefit (or drawback) of wearing their turn-out gear during training is that it is designed to keep out, the weather, which is some benefit during winter training sessions. But that also means it traps heat inside.

"And that isn't the most comfortable thing in the world," Lamha said.

It is worth mentioning that because of recent studies about the potential health risks posed by firefighter PPE, due to Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals that may be linked to cancer. These are present in a lot of turn-out gear, so the organizers are modifying stair climb apparel to boots, helmet, and air tank with ordinary workout clothes.

For those who want to contribute to the group's fundraising effort, the best way to do it is to go to the Calgary Stairclimb website (, click on the donate button and then type in the name of your favourite Barrhead stairclimber.

Barry Kerton,


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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