The stairs at the Cochrane Ranche have been selected as one of eight locations for this year's 7th annual Firefighter Starclimb Challenge. 

Between May 2 to 15, those completing the virtual challenge here will need to go up and down the 90 steps 14 times to equal the 1,204 steps of Calgary's Bow building. And they'll be doing it in full-duty firefighting gear, weighing anywhere between 50 and 65 lbs.

Chris Chyka, of Cochrane Fire Services, says they are now organizing their team and determining if they will be able to do it together as a team or in different time slots.

"We just found out in the last week or so that Cochrane was actually confirmed as a site, so we're trying to get more people because it's our hometown, and we want our department to have a strong showing."

Members of the Cochrane Fire Service have been involved in the stairclimb challenge since its inception. Both Chyka and Derek Orr have completed it all six years, and are strong supporters of the Wellspring cause.

"It's a big deal for us and we consider it a badge of honour. We've made a pact to do it for at least 10 years, so we have a few years left before we bow out."

They typically start training in the local fire hall's tower in mid-November. Not knowing if the event would be held this year, they started in January. Adding to the challenge is not having access to the hall's fire tower when they're off-duty, due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

He says it is an intimidating feat, especially when you complete it at the Bow tower. 

"It's intimidating when you're standing at the bottom of that tower looking up because it's a long way up. And granted, it's only 12-15 minutes worth of exercise but it's murder, it's absolute murder."

He says the breathing apparatus alone increases your respiratory effort by 20 per cent.

"Our gear is meant to keep heat out, but it also keeps quite a bit of it in. So as you run up that tower, you're sweating all the way up, and the heat is trapped in your gear. You're just pouring buckets of sweat by the time you hit the 40th floor."

Mayor Jeff Genung was quick to confirm he will once again be participating.

"The firefighters just notified me that Cochrane has been chosen as one of the virtual stairclimb sites," Genung said yesterday, "and yes, I will be joining the crew in the stairclimb this year."

He joined the local firefighters for the 2019 climb and capture the "Challenge the Chief" helmet by raising $16,000 for Wellspring.

Because of the pandemic, last year's event went virtual for the first time. The seven members of the Cochrane Fire Services team completed the steps in their own fire tower, but that's not possible this year.

The challenge was originally inspired by Kathy Blas, sister of local fallen firefighter Gord Paul.

Wellspring offers programs to meet the psychological, emotional, and educational needs of individuals and families living with cancer.

Those wishing to donate in support of the Cochrane Fire Services team can click here.