The Sheraton Wall Centre towers 150 metres above downtown Vancouver.
The staircase from the lobby to the top floor consists of 739 stairs over 48 storeys – a daunting climb under any conditions. But Michael Esau of the Malakwa Fire Department took it on in full firefighting gear while sucking a dwindling supply of air through a breathing apparatus.
Esau was one of more than 250 B.C. firefighters who participated in the Climb the Wall fundraiser on Feb. 23, which benefits the British Columbia Lung Association. He made it up the tower in 13:43, a time which he says put him in the middle of the pack of firefighters.
When he isn’t climbing stairs or fighting fires, Esau works at the Revelstoke Aquatic Centre. He said he became aware of the fundraiser after meeting one of the five Revelstoke firefighters who were planning to make the trip to Vancouver for the climb. Esau was immediately interested but made a final decision to go 10 days to before the event.
Despite only having 10 days to do so, Esau raised a little over $300 for the lung association.
On the day of the climb, Esau dressed in his firefighting gear and took the start line with the rest of the group. Esau has been a firefighter with the Malakwa department for a little over a year. In that time he has done plenty of training while breathing tanked air. He said in his normal training, a tank of air will last him about 40 minutes. He said the exertion of climbing the Sheraton Wall Centre’s stairs, along with the excitement and adrenaline that came with competing in the fundraiser, caused him to go through air much faster. Three quarters of the way through the climb, Esau found he was going through his air too fast and had to deliberately control his breathing the rest of the way. When he reached the top he had less than 10 per cent of his tank remaining.
Esau said he appreciated the camaraderie among the firefighters taking on the climb. The firefighters went up the tower after competitive stair climbers and non-competitive teams also participating in the fundraiser. Esau said the teams with health challenges, including one made up of people coming back from traumatic brain injuries, were very inspiring to see before he started his own ascent.
When the call for firefighters to enter the stair climb challenge goes out next year, Esau plans to be ready well in advance. He hopes to shave time off his climb and also recruit other firefighters from the area to join him.
Donations to the stair climb challenge remain open online. The donate page can be found on the B.C. Lung Association’s website where donors can search for Esau’s name in the list of participants.