The Firefighters Behind the Climb…Step by Step
Each year, West Pierce Fire & Rescue puts together a team of firefighters to participate and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) by climbing the 69 floors of the Columbia Center in Seattle, all while in full bunker gear. The annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb is a fundraiser to help find a cure for those battling blood cancer. This begs the question: what drives them to become involved? The answer is pretty unanimous among the West Pierce team, “to make a difference.”
Whether it be a spouse, family member, friend or fellow firefighter, cancer of any kind hits close to home and as in the nature of the fire service, many are compelled to help. LLS set the 2017 fundraising goal at $2.5 million and will continue to collect donations through the end of the month. At one of the early tallies shortly after the event, more than $2.2 million had already been counted. West Pierce’s team raised more than $10,000 between its 12 members.
When asked why the decision was made to climb, Captain Norm Fiacchi summed it up, “We all walk along this thin line hoping for the best, but each of us could falter at any moment. If my participation helps in any way, I am humbled and honored.”
As firefighters climb the 69 floors to the top, the walls are lined with photos of “honorees” who are fighting their own battle. Captain Fiacchi has participated in the event since he completed probation more than 20 years ago and remembers the advice a fellow firefighter gave him back then, “When it starts to get difficult – and it will – just remember you’re still better off than someone facing one of these awful diseases.”
Back in 2013, West Pierce reported about this exact same event as WPFR’s team started fundraising. It hit even closer to home as that year, as the event honoree was the son of WPFR Firefighter Steve Vukich. His 6-year-old son, Cole, was just two years old when he was diagnosed with Biphenotypic Acute Leukemia. It is with gratitude to report Cole is now cancer free.
Firefighter Pete Kilga is WPFR’s team captain for the stairclimb and has participated for 11 years. He and Firefighter Vukich worked on the same crew at one time and their children go to school together. He explains, “Cole has been through more than most of us can possibly imagine, but he is here, is cancer free, and just happens to be a 4th grader along side my daughter.”
While Fiacchi and Kilga may have participated in many stairclimbs, some are new to the event. Firefighter Victor Figueroa has worked for WPFR for one year and recently finished probation. “My decision to climb is just like any other firefighter: to simply make a difference. It is so amazing how much of an impact we can make when we all work together,” he said. Figueroa plans to participate again.
Firefighter Paul Loyko also recently completed probation and this is his third year participating. “I started doing it when I worked up north and saw the department rally together around a family of a firefighter who lost his life to cancer. I didn’t know what to expect but found out how amazing the event is. It’s great to see so many people get together to help find a cure,” he said.
Captain Mike Boltz echoed Figueroa and Loyko’s sentiments, “This very unique event is humbling, reminding us of what truly is important and what family and community can do when they fight together.”
Not only does the event serve as a fundraiser and humbling experience, it allows the fire service to come together for some healthy competition, which is only natural in this line of work. While finishing first isn’t necessarily the goal, setting personal goals is something many do. WPFR is proud to report two of its team members finished in the top 15. Firefighter Brian Johnson finished 12th and Firefighter Pete Kilga finished 15th out of nearly 1,800 participants, averaging 12 seconds per flight of stairs. The WPFR team took third place overall.
“Unfortunately, we are still losing too many to these blood cancers. There is more work to do, so you’ll see me on the stairs again next year!” says Kilga.
West Pierce Fire & Rescue would like to acknowledge this year’s team for their efforts and thank them for their dedication.