Firefighters climb to raise funds in the fight against blood cancers

By Jason Everett

Every spring for the last 19 years, firefighters from around the world have embarked on a pilgrimage to Seattle’s tallest building to prove to themselves that they have what it takes. 

On this one Sunday in March, the stairwells of the Columbia Tower fill to capacity with more than 1,500 bunker gear-laden firefighters who are sucking every breath from their SCBA bottles and raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

 Amidst the throngs are the firefighters from Vashon Island Fire & Rescue readying themselves for the painful ascent up 69 floors, packing the additional 50 pounds the bunker gear and air tank weigh. 

While the Vashon contingent has traditionally been (and continues to be) small, we are mighty.This year we have six participants: three from the career staff and three volunteers. 

Among us is the event’s oldest participant and one of the only chiefs who does the climb, former McMurray Principal Michael J. Kirk. 

While I often tease Mike about his age (in robust firehouse tradition), he is truly an inspiration to all as he often finishes the stairclimb in the middle of the pack with an impressive time between 20 and 25 minutes — much faster than hundreds of 20- and 30-somethings.

For those few of you who might not know Mike, he is in his mid-60s. 

Mike is truly a picture of health and happiness and represents the best of what it means to be a firefighter. His good health and enduring physicality remind us that some are not so lucky and are victims to various diseases and maladies, including leukemia, lymphoma and other types of cancers.

While this event is a challenge to us as firefighters and climbers, we know it is nothing like the challenge those with leukemia or lymphoma face every day in their fight for survival. 

We invite those interested in supporting our efforts to raise money for this great cause to donate to the Vashon Firefighters donation page.

While it is doubtful any of us will place first in the race (last year’s winner made it to the top in 11 minutes, 30 seconds), we know that we do have what it takes.

And we challenge our brother and sister firefighters from around the world to try to keep up with Mike Kirk. Just try.

— Jason Everett is a career firefighter with Vashon Island Fire & Rescue.

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