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Firefighters climb stairs to benefit Leukemia and Lymphoma Society | SLIDESHOW

For 11 years, Josh Peeples has participated in the annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb at the Columbia Tower in Seattle.

Despite having done the 69-flight climb for more than a decade, the Redmond Fire Department (RFD) firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) is still as hooked on the event as he was when he did his first climb at the age of 19 as a volunteer firefighter.

The stairclimb, which celebrated its 23rd year on Sunday, is a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) with money going toward three areas: research, patient care and advocacy.

In addition to climbing up the Columbia Tower's 69 flights of stairs (1,311 steps), participants wear about 50 pounds of firefighting gear.

"You're swearing to yourself the whole time," Peeples said with a laugh about the climb's difficulty, pointing out that if firefighters were to wear all of their gear for the climb, it would weigh twice as much.

Despite how difficult the climb may be, he said once you get to the top of the tower, you "can't wait till next year."

CLIMBING FOR A CAUSE

Audra Daniels, senior campaign manager for the LLS, said they hope to raise $2 million. So far, she said, they have raised about $1.55 million but people have until the end of March to bring in money so they are on track to make their goal.

"We actually still get quite a bit (of money) after the event," Daniels said, adding that in the last 10 years, the event has brought in about $7 million for the LLS.

Peeples, the captain of the RFD team, said its goal is to raise $7,500 and as of Tuesday morning, they have raised $6,245. RFD had six firefighters in addition to Peeples participate in the climb: Jeff Fuller and Michael Waite — who are both firefighters and paramedics — and Mark Williams, Dave Cobb, Luke Beaty and John Simon — all of whom are firefighters and EMTs. The team's top fundraiser so far is Fuller, who has brought in $3,105. The minimum amount for each firefighter to raise to participate in the climb is $300.

Peeples said he has been working with the City of Redmond to hold a public fundraising event before the end of the month.

With the stairclimb being held in Seattle, Daniels said many of the participants are from Washington, but they also get firefighters from all over the country — this year, firefighters were representing 26 states. In particular, she said, they get a lot of firefighters from the surrounding states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California. The event also brings in people from all over the world. Daniels said in the last eight years, they have had firefighters from as far as Europe, South America and New Zealand, adding that the New Zealand contingent has even started their own stairclimbing event back home.

"It's amazing," she said about the support they have received from the out-of-state and out-of-country firefighters.

She added that in addition to raising money to participate, these firefighters also have to pay for their own travel expenses, which makes it really exciting to see them take part.

DOING SOMETHING THAT MATTERS

Peeples, who has been part of the RFD team since he joined the department in 2007 and captain for three years, said with a room full of firefighters — about 1,800 this year — things can get a bit competitive among the participants.

"Every second counts," he said, adding that some firefighters will train by wearing their gear on hikes or a stairclimber machine.

But all the competition is friendly as he has made friends with firefighters from Boise, Southern California and New Zealand.

"It's just kind of a big reunion," he said about seeing the same people every year.

While the event may be competitive for some, for others, there is a deeper meaning.

"My dad died of leukemia, so it's a cause that's near and dear to my heart," Simon said about the climb.

The RFD firefighter and EMT participated in the climb several years before and said this year was the most difficult for him. But for him, it's more about the fundraising than the racing. So far, Simon is in second place among the RFD team, bringing in $1,555 for the cause.

Simon said while he climbs, he thinks about his father, Lee Simon, and about trying to keep breathing and keep on moving forward.

"He was a fighter himself. He lived through a couple of strokes before getting leukemia and he just kept moving forward and kept persevering and I take that with me every day," John Simon said about his father, who died in 2000 at age 59. "He was a good example and he was the kind of guy who would be proud of me for doing almost anything, so I'm sure he'd be proud of me for doing this."

Peeples said in addition to those climbing in honor of their loved ones, the stairclimb also has an honor patient every year who has or has had leukemia or lymphoma. The individual is brought to the event and recognized just before the climb begins. Peeples said he has also witnessed firefighters who have just completed the climb being greeted at the top of the tower by a spouse or loved one who is a cancer survivor.

"It's powerful," he said. "It really makes you feel like what we do matters."

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