A race to the top in the race for a cure
By BRIAN BECKLEY
Renton Reporter Assistant Editor
March 4, 2013 · Updated 5:01 PM
"You want to know about the stairclimb?" asks Renton Battalion Chief Stan Engler with a gleam in his eye. "I know a lot about it."
Engler, 57, first ran up the stairs at Seattle's Columbia Center Tower in 1992, part of the first group in the now-annual fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
He says he has not done it every year, but his time in 2012 - 13 minutes and 29 seconds - was the fastest in the department and good enough for a third-place finish in last year's "masters" division and a 13th-best time overall.
Not only that, Engler's brother, David Engler, a former member of the Shoreline department, started the event more than 20 years ago with a flyer Engler still has.
The flyer features a picture of David in full firefighter gear. It opens with the phrase "I challenge you" and ends with a P.S. - "Wimps should stay home."
David Engler's challenge grew out of a civilian stairclimb at the tower, which he did not see as hard enough for firefighters..
"It's tough," Engler said, adding that he has to train every year to keep his time as low as it is.
The challenge is simple: 69 floors, 788 vertical feet and more than 1,300 stairs, all wearing full gear and breathing supplied oxygen. First one to the top wins. All to raise money to fight leukemia and lymphoma.
According to Engler, it's the breathing apparatus that makes the climb so difficult, as the air in the tanks is dry, so you along with getting hot and tired, you also get dehydrated. The climbers core temperature and heart rate both go way up.
According to Audra Daniels of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, about 1,640 firefighters from five countries and 24 states will take part in this year's climb, the first and still largest of its kind in the world.
Last year, the firefighters raised $1.2 million. So far this year, more than $825,000 has already been promised.
"The goal is to hit $1.3 million," Daniels said.
The firefighter climb is the group's second-largest fundraiser of the year, right behind the civilian stairclimb. Together, the two events are expected to raise more than $3 million for leukemia and lymphoma research.
It's a long way from that first climb in 1992.
"It's really just grown significantly," she said.
Though there is still some question as to the number of steps, apparently, as the literature says the firefighters will climb 1,311, though Renton's Dan Alexander insists that number is from the civilian climb and the firefighters use a different stairwell, one with 1,353 steps.
There is at least one rookie on this year's team from Renton, as firefighter Jon Hollcraft will be making his first trip up the tower.
At 51, Hollcraft said he wanted to challenge himself.
"The first 50 years were too easy," he joked.
Hollcraft also said he wanted to set an example for his teenage son, to show him what training is about and how serious one has to be about it.
This year's climb also has special meaning for the guys from Renton, as it is dedicated to former Chief Art Larsen. Larsen, who retired in 2006, died in January of lymphoma.
So what's the secret for a fast time to the top? According to Engler, you just have to keep moving.
"The worst thing you can do is stop," he said. "It's terrible to get going again."