Mar. 10—Five firefighters from the Moscow Volunteer Fire Department and three from the Pullman Fire Department will join thousands of other firefighters Sunday in downtown Seattle at the Columbia Center to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in finding a cure for cancer.
The firefighters, dressed in their full gear, will climb 69 flights of stairs—1,356 steps—to the observation deck of the Columbia Center, which is the second tallest building west of the Mississippi.
In 2017, more than 2,000 firefighters from 330 different departments gathered from around the world to attend the Scott Firefighter Stair Climb, and they raised more than $2.4 million for LLS. LLS has set a goal to raise $2.65 million for this year's event, the 27th annual.
Moscow's team is made up of volunteer firefighters Anne Schulthies, Calvin Betts, Sidney Boardman, Jim Boland, Payton Ochse, Kirby Orr and Dean Walker. Pullman will be represented by Steve Potratz-Lee, Robert Krieger and Ryan Palmberg. To date, each team has raised nearly $3,000.
Potratz-Lee, a former University of Idaho track and field athlete, reached the top of the Columbia Center in just over 11 minutes last year, which was the second fasted time posted. He said part of his goal this year is to beat Missoula city firefighter Andy Drobeck, who has held the title as the fastest stair climber for the past four years.
One of the primary reasons he has decided to do the stair climb this year is to honor Meg Gollnick.
Meg, who is the wife of Pullman firefighter John Gollnick, is currently fighting stage four metastatic breast cancer.
The mother of three said her family will be going to Seattle to watch the stair climb. She said it means so much to her that the department is going in her honor because this will be a happy memory her boys can remember if she loses her fight against cancer.
"They can go back to this special memory and it will help them cope and get through hard times," Meg said.
After she was diagnosed in 2015, the Pullman Fire Department started a GoFundMe page and sent the Gollnicks to Disneyland for a week.
"My boys talk about that trip all the time—I know after this trip, too, they will talk about it all the time," she said. "It's going to be so special for them."
Statistically, firefighters are at a higher risk of developing cancer due to the amount of toxic materials they breathe in and crawl through, even with their masks and fire protection gear, Potratz-Lee said.
"That's why it is such a big event," he said.
Potratz-Lee said if, at any point, the climb seems daunting, firefighters will see photos on every floor of people currently fighting lymphoma or leukemia.
Moscow Volunteer Firefighters are attending the stair climb in honor of 1-year-old Thomas Harner, who is fighting his second battle with infant leukemia.
Walker said he does not care how fast he completes the climb.
"For me, it's all about Tommy's family—I can't imagine," he said.
Donations to LLS can still be made directly to the society or through Moscow and Pullman's team pages at www.llswa,org.