Last month, 28 members of the Santa Clara County Fire Department, including two firefighters who work in Los Altos, participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge.
Logun Fagundes and Tiffany Woods of the Loyola Fire Station were among the 2,000 firefighters from throughout the world who climbed 69 flights of stairs in Seattle’s Columbia Center – the second tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi – wearing their full turnout gear and self-contained breathing apparatuses.
The climb is a physical triumph itself, especially while wearing 60 pounds of equipment, but that’s not the only reason firefighters participate. They also do it to help those fighting blood cancers.
In the weeks leading up to the March 10 event, each participant fundraised a minimum of $300 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The department from Santa Clara County raised nearly $33,000, making it one of the top contributing teams.
“It’s a huge physical and personal and mental challenge for all of us,” Fagundes said. “It’s a very moving experience to see the fruition of your effort in fundraising and doing the climb and finishing it with your co-workers and firefighters from all over the country.”
Firefighters were placed in groups of 50, and a new group began to climb every 10 minutes. On each floor, the climbers saw photos of people who either survived or succumbed to the diseases.
“My uncle was diagnosed with leukemia six months before they put out the information (for the challenge),” said Woods, who is a captain at the Loyola station. “I’m a firefighter. I’m not a doctor. I can’t do anything, but I can do this and raise money.”
The department climbed in honor of Jacob Tenczar, who was diagnosed with cancer soon after he graduated from high school in San Jose. A portion of the funds raised by the county firefighters was used to fly Tenczar to Seattle to cheer them on.
“(Cancer) touches a lot of our lives as people ... but it’s also in our profession,” Woods said. “There’s a really high percentage of firefighters who get cancer just because of the atmospheres that (they’re) around.”
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, fire departments in several cities across the country have reported higher rates of certain cancers than the general population, perhaps because firefighters are exposed to blazes containing more synthetics, plastics and chemicals.
Along with taking such risks to help people, the Loyola firefighters have found another way to serve the community – by taking part in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge.
“Within the fire service, I would say that you’d be hard-pressed to find people who don’t go above and beyond outside the job for their community,” Fagundes said. “We enjoy being involved.”
For more information on the challenge, visit llswa.org/site/TR?fr_id=1620&pg=entry.