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Okotoks firefighters climb to greater heights for cancer relief

Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge has a new site this year in Calgary, meaning participants will have to ascend the 1,370 stairs of Brookfield Place.

Firefighters from across the Foothills are training to ascend Calgary’s tallest building for a good cause.

Going into its ninth year, responders will scale the 57 storeys, 1,370 stairs and 247 metres of Calgary’s Brookfield Place on June 11 in the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge, organized by Wellspring Cancer Support Alberta to raise funds for financial relief and support for cancer patients and their families.

“They provide funding for people and families going through cancer, and cancer is a big deal in the fire service,” said Ryan Kaiser, a firefighter with the Okotoks Fire Department (OFD) who has made the climb all but one year.

“So we’re looking to help ease that burden on people that might be going through cancer treatments.”

Firefighters have higher rates of cancer, he explained.

It may not be the first to come to mind when thinking of the hazards firefighters face saving people from fires and car crashes, but cancer is the leading cause of death of firefighters in the line of duty, according to a trend analysis by the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada.

“We have had members that have had cancer and passed away; Darcy Smith is a key figure in our department,” Ryan Kaiser said.

In a past climb, Kaiser carried a second helmet bearing the names of late fire captains Darcy Smith and Rich Befus on it.

Of the droves of firefighters from across Western Canada, eight firefighters and one RCMP member from Okotoks are taking part, joined by their peers from Foothills, Diamond Valley and High River’s fire departments.

In past years, the event was held at Calgary’s Bow Building before going remotely for two years during COVID, but this year, organizers have upped the ante with the event set for Brookfield Place.

“It’s 57 storeys, 1,370 stairs, so a little taller, more stairs than the Bow, but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Kaiser.

The Bow was 1,204 stairs, measuring in at 236 metres tall, versus Brookfield’s 247.

The Okotoks Emergency Services team has thus far raised $4,355 for the cause, with $1,560 being raised by the OFD’s Nicole Byrne, who took part in 2017 with Red Deer County Fire Department.

“I was right around 20 minutes, so the goal this time is to hopefully be under 15,” Byrne said.“It’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s going to be great. We’re going to move really fast.”

Firefighters face a considerably higher rate of cancer due to exposure to carcinogens, as well as higher mortality, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States, cited on the event website.

“Everything we do on a daily basis is affected by that, and even when it comes to the gear we wear, it increases our chance of getting cancer,” Byrne said. “So if we can do anything to fundraise and support and bringing awareness to that, I feel like the more awareness we bring, the more people that know about what we’re doing, hopefully there’s better chances of finding ways to prevent it.”

While firefighters in the past made the climb in their full turnout gear, including helmet, boots, jacket, pants, breathing apparatus and tank, event organizers have announced they are encouraging firefighters to skip the jacket and pants after it was learned they may contain a carcinogen.

The Calgary Stairclimb website pointed to a joint announcement by the International Association of Firefighters and Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association that explains, “Recent studies have shown all three layers of the protective clothing contain Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) chemicals, which have been linked to cancer.”

The event is open to not only first responders, but anyone who wishes to raise the money and participate.

For more information about the Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge, visit

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