Several of Airdrie's firefighters will be participating in the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge in Calgary this weekend on Sunday, June 11. Local firefighter, Rickey-Lee DeVries is one of those firefighters who will be climbing 57 stories (1,370 steps) at Calgary’s tallest tower - Brookfield Place.

This year will be the ninth annual stair climb challenge - an event that brings together firefighters across the globe to raise money for Wellspring Alberta, a registered charity that offers various programs for those living with cancer. 

DeVries participated in her very first stair climb challenge in 2019 in Vulcan County where she was a volunteer firefighter. Her father, a now-retired volunteer firefighter was right alongside her for the challenge. 

"I actually beat him, but he did pretty well. I think, at the time, he was 62. He's still coming out and training with me doing stairs; we went and did stairs just the other day."

According to Statistics Canada, cancer continues to be the leading cause of death amongst citizens, however, it is even more prevalent in firefighters, as they are much more susceptible to developing occupational cancers due to being exposed to cariogenic chemicals when responding to calls. DeVries said the stair climb challenge is, therefore, all the more important to her.

"[We] as firefighters; we have a lot invested [in this] because we are exposed to carcinogens on a more regular basis, but it's also great to help support people in our lives who have cancer, either friends, family, and just really anyone in the community who's struggling with it."

While DeVries is one of seven Airdrie firefighters taking part in the challenge, along with the City's Fire Chief Mike Pirie, the group is fundraising together, though she said that each firefighter participating in the challenge on the weekend will be competing individually, something she revels in.

"Oh, there definitely will be some competition. There will be some competition, there will be people who are just doing it for fun and there'll be people who are just doing it to improve their fitness," DeVries said.

In previous years, firefighters participating in the challenge would don their turnout/bunker gear when climbing the stairs, which adds approximately 55 pounds of weight to the already strenuous workout. DeVries said she used a weight vest equivalent to that in her training to condition herself. 

However, this year, a modification was announced by the organization. In a statement in late March, the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge harkened back to a joint release by The International Association of Fire Fighters and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association. Both organizations had previously released information on the emerging issue of potential health risks posed by firefighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

"Recent studies have revealed that Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals that may be linked to cancer, are present in turnout gear. At Wellspring Alberta, we are committed to supporting individuals and their families who are living with cancer, and your safety is our utmost priority. After thoughtful consideration, we have decided that all participants of the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge will climb Calgary’s tallest tower in modified gear, in the spirit of the event. Our request is that you wear your NFPA 1971 boots, helmet, SCBA (provided), and your choice of workout clothes, but not your turnout jacket and pants."

While DeVries will be ascending 57 stories this weekend, there is good news once the firefighters do clamour up to the top of the building - they don't have to run back down - instead, everyone takes the elevators down. DeVries said it is one of the highlights of the day, though the other highlight is seeing friends and family cheering.

"It's also great seeing firefighters from all over the province and firefighters that I've worked with or met in other departments. It's just great to see everybody."

In the spirit of the competition, the Calgary Police Service announced that Chief Constable Mark Neufeld would challenge the City of Calgary Fire Department Chief, Steve Dongworth during the competition. 

Other local fire departments are also participating, with three members from the Carstairs Fire Department also taking part. 

Calgary has lost 58 firefighters in the line of duty, nine during active firefighting and 49 due to illnesses related to firefighting.

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