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Hundreds climb Calgary's tallest building for charity


The ninth annual Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge took over Brookfield Place in downtown Calgary on Sunday.

More than 500 firefighters and other participants raced up the 1,370 steps that make up the 57-storey tower, which stands nearly 250 metres tall.

Even with stifling coveralls draped over them and gear on their backs, some competitors were able to race to the top in less than 13 minutes.

Geoff Pyke of Canmore climbed his way to the top in an impressive 11:19, earning him the fastest time of the day.

This is the first time Brookfield Place has hosted the challenge, since its inception in 2015, with participants over the years coming from all over Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark.

It is the highest-elevation stair climb challenge in the country, and after three years of virtual or indoor climbs, this year marks a return to what the event is intended to look like.

The event supports Wellspring Cancer Support Alberta, a registered charity that offers free programs and services to meet the emotional, social and practical needs of people living with cancer.

"We don't have any government funding. There's no core funding for us at Wellspring, so when we do fundraisers like this, it just goes to general operations and programs directly to the frontlines of the people we serve," Natalie Noble, CEO of Wellspring Alberta.

"We offer all sorts of programs for people. They can come and learn how to play the ukulele, go fly fishing, or take an art class, and so, raising awareness for our cause is a really important part of this event."

Even with stifling coveralls draped over them and gear on their backs, some competitors were able to race to the top in less than 13 minutes.


Noble was one of the participants who took on the climb for the first time.

After tackling the nearly 1,400 stairs, she said she felt exhausted but motivated to push through.

"The gear is extremely hot. I had the boots on, the coveralls, the helmet, and then being in that stairwell, there was not a lot of airflow, so it was way harder than I expected," she said.

"I knew that the inspiration that I would be able to draw would be from the people in my life who have either died from cancer or who currently have cancer and all of the people using Wellspring services."

In Alberta, there are 20 presumptive cancers that are recognized as occupational hazards of a firefighter's job.

It's something that fire departments in the province take seriously.

"What we've found more recently is there's a range of products called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. (PFAS) that actually exists within the firefighting gear," said Steve Dongworth, Calgary Fire Chief.

"The gear is like a sandwich. You have an outer layer, you have an inner lining, and in between that, you have a moisture barrier. What we have found is that the moisture barrier contains PFAS. We need to learn more about that, and we need to know more about PFAS."

Dongworth says, unfortunately, there is currently no substitute for the material that would meet the rigorous safety guidelines and keep fire crews safe while fighting structure fires.

"For the time being, that means we are not using regular gear for things like stair climbs or for any types of calls where we don't need to,"

"There is no replacement currently that meets standards, so the industry is responding and developing new products, which will all have to be tested and certified, so this could take a while. But, for the time being, we're minimizing the risk of cancer by asking people to limit wearing their duty gear."

Since 2015, the event has raised more than $2 million. More than $315,000 has been raised this year, and donations can be made until June 30th.

To donate, you can visit the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge website.

Wellspring Alberta will also gift a portion of the money raised to the Firefighters Assistance Charitable Society. Top Stories

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