PORT ANGELES — Margie Brueckner insisted she was feeling good Saturday while stepping in place, weighed down by firefighter gear and breathing from an oxygen tank.
Brueckner, 40, and 14 other Port Angeles Fire Department and Clallam County Fire District 2 firefighters were laboring hard in a corner of the Third Street Safeway in Port Angeles, panting and sweating on a stairmaster machine amid racked Seahawks gear and bustling Saturday shoppers.
They wore 40 to 45 pounds of gear, including 26-pound air tanks that pulled them earthward in pursuit of their destination: the 1,356 steps of the 76-story, 788-foot Columbia Center in downtown Seattle, site of the 27th annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb 2018 timed competition March 11.
Bill Beezley, spokesman for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR), said Friday that firefighters Scott Pulido and Pat McNerthney are taking part in the event.
“There has not been a period in the last eight years that I’ve been here that we haven’t participated in the stair climb,” Beezley said.
The event, named for the maker of safety equipment that helps keep firefighters alive, drew Brueckner and her colleagues to Safeway as they continued training for their ascent to the fourth tallest building on the West Coast.
Decked out in full fire-suppression gear at the Port Angeles store, firefighters were taking 15- to 20-minute turns on the exercise machine, raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through donations.
The organization funds blood cancer research and receives all the donations for the event.
About 2,000 firefighters from nine countries participated in the event in 2017, raising $2.4 million for blood cancer research and patient services, according to the event website at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-stairclimb.
Brueckner has more than one personal connection to the event.
A high school friend died of leukemia at 19.
Brueckner’s father-in-law recently came out of remission for leukemia following a T-cell transplant.
“He’s in the hospital, but he’s doing OK,” she said as she climbed in place, reaching the stairmaster equivalent of 55 floors while talking through her air mask.
Firefighter Tim Davis said Stairclimb competitors each must raise $300 to attend the event and pay $80 to enter the competition.
Davis finished in less than 25 minutes last year, and Brueckner completed the climb in 33 minutes.
Brueckner said she was feeling good when asked how she was doing.
She said she’s been training “a little bit” in an effort to improve her time to 20 minutes, doing high-intensity interval training and cardio workouts at home and running up and down the 100-or-so steps of the Laurel Street stairs in downtown Port Angeles.
Davis, about 65 years old — “I told them I was 60 when I signed up,” the gray-haired attorney joked — has been training twice a week on the five flights of stairs in Naval Elks Lodge in Port Angeles, “going up, going down, going up, going down,” he said.
“It’s a charity, and it goes to a good cause.
“It’s also a challenge.”
Andrew Drobek, a Missoula, Mont., firefighter, won the Stairclimb for the sixth time in the 2017, making it to the top in 10 minutes, 58 seconds.
Beezley said EJFR firefighters train in full gear on steps leading from Fort Worden down about 60 feet of stairs to the beach below.
Their workout was similar to Davis’.
“Up and down, up and down, and you’re breathing pretty heavy, pretty fast,” Beezley said.
“It’s all about raising money for a good cause.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie, a lot of feeling good about it.”
Six Clallam District 3 firefighters are participating in the Stairclimb.
“It’s a worthy cause for so many reason,” Fire Chief Sam Phillips said Saturday.
“It keeps the firefighters in tip-top shape, and it also allows them to give back to the community, where it’s really needed.”
The Clallam County and city of Port Angeles fire districts joined together as one team this year under the moniker North Olympic Firefighters.
“We work with each other and help each other out with calls,” Port Angeles firefighter-paramedic Daniel Montana said.
Last year, firefighters from different districts competed under the Port Angeles Fire Department name.
“These guys are really proud to be District 2 fire-rescue, as I am [proud] to be Port Angeles fire-rescue.
“It just didn’t make any sense to have two separate teams do the same thing.
“Let’s be one big team.
“It’s a team effort.”
Safeway employee Isaac Peiffer, 34, who plays basketball and coaches soccer, took a turn on the machine.
He wasn’t fully suited up, but it still took its toll, he said, stepping off after a few minutes.
“I’m trying to breathe now,” Peiffer said, gasping a little bit.
“I didn’t think I’d get that winded.”
Montana said Sunday that shoppers and store employees donated $1,088 during the four-hour event.
“This town is just great,” he said.
“There were just a bunch of good people there to take time to think about someone other than themselves, so it’s really nice to see.”
To donate, contact a local fire department or go online at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-stairclimb.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].