A 10-member Cochrane Fire Services team has conquered Calgary's Brooksfield Place in the 10th annual Firefighters Stairclimb on June 9. Along the way they have so far raised $5,332 for Springwell Alberta.

All 10 successfully climbed the skyscraper's 1,370 steps in full gear, including helmets, boots and the particularly heavy breathing apparatus. Among them were Chris Chyka and Derek Orr, who are among the few who have participated every year of the fundraiser.

Chyka says no doubt about it, it's physically challenging, even more daunting now, but you rise above it with the encouragement of your teammates, and the many volunteers cheering you on every step of the way. They're there opening doors to try and give you some fresh air and making sure you're OK.

"You're almost at the top and your legs are tired, and you're running with your heart. There's some inspirational message as you run up the tower and these people are cheering you on, which I have to admit is helpful, especially when you're into your 40s."

Cochrane was the second last team to make the climb. By that time of the day, the heat starts to sap your energy.

"When you start off, you're OK, you're enjoying the mobility, and the weight doesn't seem too bad. But the heat sucks, and it drains the energy right out of you," says Chyka.

"They send firefighters up in waves," says Orr. "I think around 20 per wave and we were waved 16 out of 17. We probably started our run at about 1:15, so you can imagine what 420 firefighters can do to a stairwell with very little air flow."

After fulfilling their vow to do it the first 10 years, will they do it again? Never say never again.

Chris and derekChris Chyka and Derek Orr at the top of Brooksfield Place. (contributed)

"Right now, you know, I actually don't feel too bad to be honest with you," says Chyka. "We've done enough, and we know how it goes."

What is inspiring to both Orr and Chyka is the size of the team they sent, and the enthusiasm shown during the months of training it takes to prepare. It's something they do in their time off shift.

"We've sort of been the team captains and the driving force for getting our department involved. We've got a few young fellows that did quite well this year and we're hoping they'll take the reins from us," says Orr. "So, if we do it next year, it will be more just participants, not really the driving force."

Chyka says there's nothing better than having your teammates at the top of the tower to share the satisfaction of completing the climb.

"We're proud of the fact that we were as a team able to raise $5,332."

It's also a cause very near the heart of all firefighters. In Alberta, there are 20 presumptive cancers recognized as occupational hazards of the firefighter’s job. That's where Wellspring comes in.

"It's important," says Orr. "Like Chris always says, it's the support outside the medical. Everyone gets pretty good care in Alberta for your cancer treatments and the medical end of things, but there's very little help for something as simple as your finances."

The firefighters were joined for a second year by town CAO Mike Derricott. Jay Judin, director of Protective Services and Emergency Management, also made the climb.

Orr says their support was appreciated

JeromyGRPF executive director Jeromy Farkas participated in his second Challenge the Chief event. (contributed)

Although he wasn't part of the Cochrane Fire Services team, Jeromy Farkas, executive director of the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, participated in his second Challenge the Chief event.

While serving on Calgary city council, Farkas completed some recruit training to better understand their operations, but never did he dream he'd be invited to participate in the Stairclimb.

To Farkas, it's about the fundraising for Wellspring (he has raised $7,940 so far), but also admits to a friendly rivalry with Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth.

"I came in just a little bit quicker than Chief Dongworth, but he is 30 years older than me, so it was it was everything that I could to do to hold on and keep him in eyesight. I was able to eke it out at the end, but man, I had to use all the gas in the tank to be able to do it and I'm not sure if he might have let me win."

He says at the end of the day, it's about firefighters, their community and providing them support that they need for workplace hazards like cancer.

"That really what the purpose of the event was to raise over $300,000 for support for cancer fighters and survivors and their families. It's crazy to me when I think of these firefighters are the people who run into the burning buildings rather than out of them, and the last thing that they should do is have to face cancer alone.

"It was just incredible to see how the community rallied. And for me, I don't take it for granted that I was invited to participate."

He gives a shout out to the Cochrane team.

"Cochrane punches above its weight class when it comes to volunteerism, philanthropy, fundraising and the team that Cochrane sent, man, they are tough. These guys are fast, and they left me in the dust."

Mayor Jeff Genung has participated in the Challenge the Chief event twice in the past but was unable to participate due to a nagging injury.

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