The Tukwila Fire Department took raising money for a good cause to the next step. Literally.
On March 10, six members of Tukwila Fire, including Chief Jay Wittwer, took to the stairs and walked up all 69 flights of stairs in the Columbia Tower in Seattle to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Tukwila Fire ended up raising more than $8,000 for the cause and in total 2,000 firefighters from all over the world raised a total of $2,378,360, according to a Facebook post from the Tukwila Police Department.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website, this is the world’s largest on-air stair climb competition.
While at the event, Wittwer said he met firefighters from Mexico, Canada, Germany, France and from all over the United States.
Wittwer said climbing those stairs was no easy feat.
He said each firefighter must wear their “turnout gear.” This means participants must wear their firefighting boots, which according to Wittwer are not made for running as they have a steel shank in the bottom of them.
“They’re designed to protect your feet from effects of fire and heat as well as water,” Wittwer said.
Along with the boots, participants must also wear their fire protective pants and jacket, their air pack, including face mask and breathing mask, and their helmet and gloves.
While this was a hard task to complete, Wittwer said the real difficulty is fighting cancer.
“The real efforts that are being made are by those that are suffering the effects of leukemia and lymphoma and we’re there to support them. The big drive for it of course is raising funds for research and treatment for those suffering the effect those cancer,” he explained.
This cause hits home for Wittwer as one of the battalion chiefs was diagnosed with lymphoma about six years ago. He was lucky and overcame it, but some aren’t as successful.
Wittwer also just discovered one of his family members is struggling with leukemia.
“A week before I climbed the stairs, I got a message from one of my cousins that I’m very close to — he’s in his 70’s — and he’s been diagnosed with a very rare form of leukemia and is seeking treatment and a really more refined diagnosis of his situation,” he said. “So it really does hit close to most of us. As I’ve talked to those climbing the stairs, family members and very close friends have been affected by this.”
Throughout his career, Wittwer said he has never climbed up this many stairs before. Usually, he said he will go up an average of around 10 to 14 floors, so this was new for him as this was his first time participating in the event.
For Tukwila Fire in general, Wittwer said participating in this event has been a tradition for decades.
“I’m very happy to have participated in this event. I will say that it was a very difficult task. Those who participate say it’s a painful adventure,” he said. “As you reach the top of the Columbia Center Tower, you’re very relieved. After about a half hour of recovery time, I felt great, ready to go about my day and it was very nice to be up there on the top and just spending time with the people of like mind and dedicated to this great cause.”