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Five New West firefighters take on the Climb the Wall challenge

New Westminster firefighters ran up 48 storeys to raise funds for BC Lung Foundation: "It's fun."

Several New West firefighters made the gruelling climb up 48 storeys to support lung health.

Five members of New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services were among more than 180 B.C. firefighters who climbed to the 48th floor of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre on March 24 as part of this year’s Climb the Wall event.

“It's fun,” said New West firefighter Steve Brill, captain of the local team. “It's fun to train for it. It's fun to go out as a team and support a good cause.”

Firefighters from across B.C., as well as some non-firefighter participants, took up the challenge of climbing 48 storeys to support the BC Lung Foundation.

“When you get going on those 48 floors, it's probably one of the most gruelling 10 minutes I think I could imagine,” Brill said. “And, as much as you prepare for it, it's still very, very hard.”

Brill said fastest climber made it to the top of the building in a “mind-boggling” time of five-minutes-and- 58-seconds.

“The goal is to complete but if you can get it done in under 12 minutes, that's, that's a bonus,” he said. “Just finishing is what I would say the goal is because it's quite difficult.”

All members of the New Westminster and Fire and Rescue Services’ team made it to the 48th floor. Once there, firefighters take off their regulators and catch their breath.

“There’s a lot of loud breathing. People are happy,” Brill said. “It's quite a good thing when you get to the end and see that door. It's a pretty good feeling to know that you've made it. Then you get to take the elevator down.”

Joining Brill on New Westminster’s Climb the Wall team were Capt. Charles Lister and firefighters Saba Asadi, Bryan Mayer and Sean Staples.

“We feel fantastic about it,” Brill said. “As firefighters, our job is to contribute and support the community. And I know their (BC Lung Foundation’s) overall goal is to elevate lung health.”

While he wouldn’t divulge which team member had the fastest time, Brill said all everyone did great.

“Everyone was really supportive. Everyone's nervous, but you go out there as a team, and you leave as a team,” he said. “People had each other's backs, which is really important when you do an event like that. They know that it's a team effort, and we're all kind of part of something bigger than ourselves.”

And while they’re all about teamwork, they’re not above some good-natured ribbing. Lister, a captain, was particularly pleased to rib Mayer about making it to the top before his colleague.

Noting that New Westminster firefighters attend a lot of medical calls where patients have asthma, COPD and other breathing difficulties, Brill said firefighters are happy to support a cause that brings awareness to lung health and raises money for the cause. He said the team is grateful to the department’s chiefs and fellow firefighters for their support of their efforts.

According to the BC Lung Foundation, this year’s event has raised almost $100,000 to support BC Lung’s health initiatives. Donations are being accepted until April 15.  

The amount raised by New West firefighters had not been confirmed by press time, but registrants were asked to fundraise a minimum of $225.

The BC Lung Foundation will be using funds raised from this year’s event to send kids from across British Columbia to asthma camps. BC Lung’s Asthma Education Camps provide children with valuable knowledge and tools to manage their asthma effectively.

For more than 110 years, BC Lung has been fighting for healthy lungs and healthy air in a number of ways, including searching for treatments or cures to prevent or treat lung disease, keeping kids off tobacco and e-cigarettes, and fighting for laws that protect the air we breathe. 

A challenging task

According to the BC Lung Foundation, many of the firefighters who took part wore their full turnout gear, which can weigh more than 50 pounds.

Asked about the challenge of completing the event while wearing that gear, Brill said firefighters train so they’re prepared to perform their jobs while wearing their heavy turnout gear and masks.

“We are responsible to know how all our gear works, how it feels and what we're capable of in that gear,” he said. “So, it's not new to us, but we definitely don't go up 48 floors every day.”

Many of the firefighters taking part in the Climb the Wall fundraiser also wore air packs. Breathing in “supplied air” for the duration of the climb added to the physical challenge.

“You definitely have to stay calm and kind of focus on your breathing,” Brill said. “It does hinder your breathing a little bit; it definitely doesn’t help. It’s not pure oxygen; it’s compressed air.”

Brill said the feeling that comes with breathing in compressed air while hiking up the stairs is intended to represent what it may feel like to be someone struggling with asthma.

Speaking to the Record the day after the climb, Brill said his legs felt fine, but he had a bit of a cough.

“I feel like my lungs got a pretty good workout,” he said.

To prepare for their climb, the New West firefighters trained on their own and as a group.

“For this, you definitely have to work out a little harder than you usually do,” Brill said. “And maybe once in a while, you have to put your gear on, or throw an air pack on and exercise with your mask on and get used to that breathing.”

In addition to the physical challenge, Brill said the climb can be quite mentally daunting because firefighters want to make sure they don’t let their teammates down.

“Everything we do revolves around teamwork,” he said. “We're all very proud and we don't want to be the weak link, so there's that responsibility that you have to your teammates.”

Brill said New West firefighters tend to be a “very fit” group – due, in part, to the physical requirements needed to best serve the city.

“We are aware of the highrises. And being a smaller department, we don't have as many firefighters at a fire scene as maybe Vancouver or Surrey does,” he said. “We're a very close family. Everyone knows everyone, and we look out for each other and make sure that everyone's safe, and everyone's capable of their job duties.”

Although New West firefighters may be physically fit, running up a stairwell with compressed air isn’t something they would normally do on the job.

In a real fire situation, Brill said firefighters would not turn on their compressed air until they reached the “fire floor” with their hose line or encountered smoky conditions.

“That would give us longer time to fight the fire and get it put out,” he explained.