The Columbia Center looms above Captain Josh Munger at the Firefighter Stairclimb earlier this month.

The Columbia Center looms above Captain Josh Munger at the Firefighter Stairclimb earlier this month.

Vashon firefighters raise money to defeat cancer in Seattle stair climb

The purpose of the event is to raise money to combat blood cancers.

A team from Vashon Island Fire & Rescue participated in the Firefighter Stairclimb at Seattle’s Columbia Center earlier this month, raising nearly $9,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

This year marked the 28th year for the event, which draws 2,000 firefighters from several states to climb to the top of Seattle’s tallest building. Wearing their firefighting gear and on-air, the firefighters climb the tower’s 69 floors and 1,356 steps, ending on the 73rd floor.

A firefighter from Oregon took first place this year in 11 minutes, 3 seconds.

While it is a fitness challenge, the purpose of the event is to raise money to combat blood cancers. Each participant must commit to raising at least $300, and many raise considerably more than that. The event this year raised over $2.5 million and has brought in more than $17 million since it began.

In a repeat role, Andy Johnson served as Vashon’s team captain; he is a VIFR fire commissioner and a paramedic with King County Medic One. Johnson, who competed in the men’s 50 to 54 age category, won that division in 16 minutes and 2 seconds.

While Johnson said he hoped for a faster time, he was pleased with his results and noted that the real significance of the event is not about climbing stairs, but fighting cancer.

“The cause is huge,” he said. “The longer I live the more I see that everybody ends up being touched by cancer in some way.”

Josh Munger, a captain at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, competed this year for the 14th year and is among those who have been touched by cancer. His sister, Rochelle Munger, died from an extended battle with cancer last summer, and Munger’s wife, Juanitta Lang, was diagnosed with leukemia in the fall of 2017. She, too, is a firefighter and climbed this year in the survivors’ battalion.

Munger said participants in the climb can submit photos of people who have died from cancer or who are living with it, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will place them, as posters, in the stairwell. He submitted photos of both his wife and sister.

“At each poster, I took a minute, especially when I saw my sister,” he said. “I just had to spend some time there, way up on the 65th floor.”

The stairwell holds many posters, he noted, of people living and dead, and across the age spectrum.

“It just makes you realize as you are climbing who you are climbing for,” he said.

Munger is among the members of the Vashon team who plan to participate again next year, though while climbing up the tower’s many stairs, it is tempting not to do so.

“I have a lot to climb for with Rochelle and my wife” he said.

Munger finished the climb this year in 29 minutes. Other participants on the Vashon team were Ben Davidson, who finished in 21:52, Ben Steele who finished in 17:38 and Justin Edwards who finished in time 44:29. Firefighter and emergency medical technician Karen Jensen served as a support member and changed the team members’ air bottles on the climb.

Prior to the event, which was held March 10, some of the Vashon team took a stair climber machine to Thiftway, where they raised $1,500 from community members. Those funds were added to what team members raised personally and contributed to the team total of nearly $8,800.

Donations to the Vashon team and the cause are still being accepted. See llswa.org and click on “donate.”

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