Local firefighters will conquer Columbia Center for a cure

From left, Chad Equatore and Shane Keeley of Poulsbo Fire raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society last weekend at Central Market.  - Megan Stephenson / Herald
From left, Chad Equatore and Shane Keeley of Poulsbo Fire raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society last weekend at Central Market.
— image credit: Megan Stephenson / Herald

For many of our local firefighters, the need for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society hits close to home.

Firefighter/paramedic Tom Kenyon of North Kitsap Fire and Rescue died of leukemia 15 years ago. North Kitsap firefighter Shane Seyboldt lost an older brother to leukemia. Poulsbo firefighter Chad Equatore lost a nephew to brain cancer.

Both fire departments have teams in this year’s Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, using these and other personal stories to motivate themselves to climb 69 flights of stairs, 788 feet of elevation, to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In 2011, the event brought in a record $930,000 for blood-cancer research and patient services.

Now in its 21st year, 1,737 firefighters — including 139 women — from 276 teams will climb the Columbia Center building in downtown Seattle March 11, raising money through sponsorships, and individual and department fundraising.

Firefighters will climb the 1,311 steps with at least 50 pounds of gear — pants, coat, helmet, oxygen tank, possibly even a hose or axe. It is the largest individual firefighter competition in the world, and known as the world firefighter stairclimbing championship, according to Mike McQuaid, an LLS spokesman. Teams from 24 states, Canada and Germany have joined in the challenge this year.

“I’d like to do it in around 15, 15-and-a-half minutes,” said Shane Keeley of Poulsbo Fire. “Last year, I did it in 17 minutes.”

This will be Keeley’s seventh year climbing the tower, and he said some firefighters’ strategy is to climb as fast as possible — which earns them a special award — and others challenge themselves further by doing push-ups at each floor.

With that many people climbing one stairwell, “It’s nice to have the mask on,” Keeley said.

Poulsbo Fire has an eight-member team, and held a fundraiser last weekend at Central Market; members of the team took turns on a Stepmill in full gear for donations. Keeley said the team hopes to surpass the $2,500 it raised last year — as of Thursday, they had raised $1,495.

NKFR is hosting a similar fundraiser on Saturday at the Kingston Albertsons. As of Thursday, the team raised $5,296 — nearly $3,300 more than the original goal.

Of the 10-member team, Glen Rotsten is the oldest member at 46, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he talks.

“My reason, besides the fact we lost one of our brothers [Kenyon], the second motivation is the 343 guys we lost when the Twin Towers came down,” Rotsten said. “The third reason is to see if I can get my old butt up those stairs.”

Rotsten knew Kenyon when he was first hired 18 years ago, sharing duties in the medic unit.

“He was one of my very first mentors. He had a really great attitude, a go-getter,” Rotsten said.

This year is his fourth time ascending the tower, and describes his strategy as a “very quick-pace power walk.” His goal is to climb to the top in less than 20 minutes, and has been running 10 miles a week for the last 10 months. He said the structure of firefighter life encourages time for exercise every day, which is good for their mental and physical health.

“I’m looking forward to putting in the best time I’ve ever done,” Rotsten said.

This is the first climb for team captain Seyboldt, who lost his 8-year-old brother when Seyboldt was 3.

“I’m finally doing  something for him or for my family in a way, [the climb] has special meaning,” he said. And although he’s heard from the veterans how brutal the climb can be, he’s already set his goal at 13 minutes.

“I looked at last year’s results, only the top 10 out of 1,500 finished in 13 minutes,” he said. “But I’m still going to try.”

Seyboldt trained with a stairstepper and treadmill, wearing a weighted vest or his breathing apparatus.

“I’m trying to train every part of my body for this,” he said.

The Society also holds a civilian climb of Columbia Tower, called The Big Climb, on March 25. Spots to climb the 69 floors are sold out, but donations are still accepted at ?pagename=BC_homepage.

Supporting Our Firemen- To donate by March 30, go to and search for either team by department name.- NKF&R team: Shane Seyboldt (captain), Todd Bailey, Johnny Carr, Heath Clark, Michael Mock, Kris Osera, Glen Rotsten, Scott Trueblood, Tyler Williams and Sherman Williamson.- Poulsbo team: Justin Zeigler (captain), Jim Whitsett, Chad Equatore, Shane Keeley, Ryan Sommer, Bruce Lowry, Brian Ramey and Chris Strickland.- NKF&R fundraiser: Saturday, Kingston Albertsons, Hansville Road and Highway 104, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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