This weekend, a group of Revelstoke volunteer firefighters are heading to Vancouver to take part in the 15th annual Climb the Wall: The Stairclimb for Clean Air.
The climb sees hundreds of people tackle the 48 floors of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel. Over the years, it has become a bit of a testing ground for firefighters from around B.C., who join the public to push themselves up the 150-metre-high hotel.
The difference is they’re carrying an extra 25 kilograms of equipment, from their heavy firefighter uniform, to their air tanks and masks.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, James Bacon, James Macdonald, Russ Brackenbury, Jeff Acton and Glen Cherlet will be representing the Revelstoke fire department at the Sheraton.
Last Thursday, Feb. 11, they invited me and EZ Rock’s Shaun Aquiline to train with them up and down the tower stairs at the Revelstoke fire hall.
I went into it with a little trepidation and considered bowing out for no particular reason other than a lack of enthusiasm for running up and down stairs — I prefer my exercise to be outdoors. My excuse was going to be the knee injury I experienced skiing in early December, but considering the amount of skinning, boot packing and skiing I’ve done in the past month, I knew that wouldn’t fly, so I manned up and got up from my comfy office chair..
I showed up at the fire hall where the two Jameses suited up me and Shaun in a pair of heavy boots, pants, and jacket, with a steel air tank strapped to our backs, and a face mask. They spared us the helmet. I managed to negotiate my way into a pair of supportive road-rescue boots instead of the bulky, rubber firefighting boots. I’m pretty sure that helped immensely for the challenge to come.
We entered the stair well and Bacon led the way up. The stairs at the fire hall consists of a dozen flights with seven steps each. In total, it climbs about 15 metres until you come out to the top, with a view over downtown Revelstoke and the Columbia River as your reward.
My thought was this was like boot packing to the sub peak at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, but with much bulkier clothing — and in a way less scenic environment.
We jogged up at a steady pace, taking it one step at a time. We got to the top, paused for a quick breath, then went back down. We went back up a second time, at which point Shaun hit his breaking point.
For me, the hardest part was breathing. I consider myself in reasonably good shape, if not by Revelstoke standards, at least by Canadian standards, but I struggled with breathing inside the air mask. It was constricting and threw off my rhythm.
Bacon and Macdonald talked about the challenge of doing the climb, and then engaging in that kind of workout while battling a fire. It’s an intense activity in a stressful environment and they’ll go through a full air tank in about eight minutes.
I ran a third lap, this time without the mask, then we all did a fourth with an additional 30 pounds on our pack in the form of a fire hose. Finally, I went back down to get my camera, and back up to take a picture.
Five laps is half what the firefighters will do at the stair climb. Plus, I got to take breaks here and there, and ran a few without the confining face mask. Could I do all 10? Probably, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. Could I exert that kind of energy while fighting a fire? Once again, probably, but I don’t know. I got a small taste of the firefighter experience, but I didn’t have to face an actual fire or pull someone out of a mangled wreck. How do you know how you’ll react?
I have utmost respect for the volunteer firefighters who train hard and go out at all hours of the night to help people for only a small stipend. If you want to support them for the stair climb, visit tinyurl.com/zhsl9k4.