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Helping raise money for Wellspring Alberta

Barrhead firefighters complete stair climb challenge climbing to the top of Calgary’s tallest tower
BRFS members Jorge Leon and Joshua Kelly took part in a fundraiser for Wellspring Alberta that saw them climb 57 stories of stairs to the top of Calgary's tallest tower on June 11. Pictured are BRFS members Jorge Leon, Brian Lamha (top right), Joshua Kelly (bottom left), and Hayden (Legacy) Sabiston (bottom right) after a training session. Lamha and Sabiston had also planned to take part in the stair climb but had to opt out as they were occupied with the province's wildfire fighting effort.

BARRHEAD - Two Barrhead Regional Fire Services (BRFS) firefighters successfully climbed 57 stories to the top of Calgary's building in almost their full firefighting bunker gear to help raise money for Wellspring Alberta.

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.

BRFS firefighters Joshua Kelly and Jorge Leon competed in the June 11 event. For Kelly, it was his first stair climb, while for Leon, it was his second.

Unfortunately, BRFS firefighters Brian Lahma and Hayden Sabiston, who had planned to take part in the stair climb with Kelly and Leon, could not do so because they were part of the fire department's commitment to the provincial wildfire fighting effort. However, they helped to contribute to the team's fundraising effort, raising just short of $2,700.

"It was a great event, and we had a fantastic time. There must have been over 500 firefighters from all over the province," Kelly told the Barrhead Leader four days after the climb. "There was especially a good turn-out from northern Alberta. There were firefighters from Westlock, Lac Ste. Anne, Athabasca, Bonnyville and beyond, raising a ton of money for Wellspring."

The BRFS firefighting quartet wanted to participate in the event because cancer is a cause that is especially close to firefighters' hearts.

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 unsurprising as chronic exposure to heat, toxic smoke and other fire byproducts put firefighters at high risk for developing cancer.

As part of the race, firefighters donned their full bunker gear, including boots, pants, jackets, and breathing apparatus, and then climbed the 1,370 steps needed to reach the top of Brookfield Place, Calgary's tallest tower.

Firefighters could compete as a relay team, in which a firefighter would complete a section of stairs or as an individual.

Because of their different work schedules, the quartet often trained independently, at the gym at the fire hall, but also came together two or three times to climb the stairs at BRFS training village, consisting of 10 sea cans configured to simulate a multi-story condo or apartment complex.

Kelly noted that because of recent studies about the potential health risks posed by firefighter personal protective equipment, specifically due to Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals that may be linked to cancer that is present in a lot of turn-out gear, organizers modified the race apparel.

"We ended up climbing in our fire boots, wearing our Barrhead fire department T-shirts and shorts and our air packs on our backs," he said, adding that was challenging enough. "It was a tough climb."

Kelly added that although the weather in Calgary that day was overcast, with temperatures in the low to mid-20s (Celsius) at the start of the climb, the temperature in the stairwell was closer to 30 degrees. 

To make it worse, he said, there was little to no airflow.

"But about every five stories, there was an aid station with water and remote fans to help cool climbers and people there to cheer you on," he said.

Despite the warm temperatures, Kelly noted that most competitors scored strong times, with the fastest times coming in at about the 10-minute mark and the slower times being closer to 45 minutes.

As for how the Barrhead competitors fared, Leon won the battle of bragging rights, completing the 57-story climb in 18 minutes, compared to Kelly's 27.

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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