Ahalf-dozen teams of emergency responders from fire departments around the Rogue Valley will climb 1,311 steps at Seattle's Columbia Center in March to raise money for cancer research.
Curt Ulrich of Jackson County Fire District No. 5 will tackle his second year at the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in honor of his father, whom he lost to cancer in 1992.
In its 23rd year, the annual Scott Firefighter Stair Climb is held in downtown Seattle's Columbia Center, the "tallest building west of the Mississippi."
One of four annual climbs hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in which emergency responders wear full emergency gear, this year's climb, on March 9, will be made by 1,800 firefighters. Signups on Nov. 14 were filled up within 13 minutes.
To make a donation to the general cause, go to http://tinyurl.com/stairclimb-main.
For each department, click on its page:
Medford Fire-Rescue: http://tinyurl.com/stairclimb-medford
Jacksonville Fire Department: http://tinyurl.com/stairclimb-jville
Jackson County Fire District No. 5: http://tinyurl.com/stairclimb-FD5
Jackson County Fire District No. 3: http://tinyurl.com/stairclimb-FD3
Rogue River Fire District No. 1: http://tinyurl.com/stairclimb-RR
Making the 1,311-step climb in under 19 minutes last year, wearing full firefighter gear, Ulrich affixed a photo of his dad to his helmet.
"They put posters of the pictures up in the stairwell, and I had made it a point to touch every picture as I went up. I had heard the one of my dad was on the 27th floor," Ulrich said.
"When I got to the 27th, it was the first photo on the ground. I picked it up and it was a picture of my dad, so I picked it up and carried it all the way to the top. It was pretty emotional."
About 20 local firefighters and emergency medical personnel from five departments will join 1,800 others from around the world in climbing the 69 flights of stairs on March 9.
Fellow District 5 firefighter Sabrina Worthington made her first climb in honor of an uncle battling cancer in 2012.
Worthington has steadily improved her time up the stairs, from 30 minutes in 2012 to 26 minutes last March. She's aiming to make the climb in 21 minutes this year.
While her uncle died shortly after her first climb, Worthington has continued to make the climb in his honor. It's a huge physical challenge, even for some of the most fit emergency responders, she said.
"No matter how hard this climb is, and it is hard, it's not even an ounce of what people fighting cancer have to face on a daily basis," said Worthington.
"I watched my uncle dying from cancer and he was so miserable and so sick. He went from a tough military police officer with the best sense of humor. No matter how sick he got, he still joked and told war stories. I just can't complain going up 69 flights of stairs if I'm climbing for somebody like that."
Rogue River Fire District No. 1 firefighter Alfredo Echaide will make his seventh trek up the Columbia Center stairs this year in honor of two: a lifelong friend who died of cancer and the daughter of a former fire chief who is now battling cancer.
Echaide said his motivation for the climb is helping to raise money to prevent others from losing loved ones to cancer.
"We do the climb to raise money and awareness, but I don't know that there are too many people who aren't aware. Pretty much everyone knows someone battling this or who knows someone who has," he said.
"It's just something I think is a great cause and it's a great experience. I'd like to see all our local teams raise quite a bit of money this year and really make a difference. This is something that's important to all of us."
Ready to climb with his dad's photo once again, Ulrich said he could not imagine a year going by in which he would not make the climb, an elevation gain of 788 feet.
"Cancer is just such a nasty thing, so it's almost inevitable that everybody has a story," he said.
"Last year was my first year of fire service so it was the first year I did the climb. But this is something I'll do for the remainder of my career for sure. It just really hits home for all of us."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.