Fall City firefighters go all the way for fund-raiser

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FALL CITY - It takes a certain type of person to believe that running up flights of stairs in the tallest building in Seattle would be fun.

Fall City firefighters Steve Bandy and Kari Svendsen are such people. On March 17, Bandy and Svendsen were two of more than 700 firefighters from across the United States who ran up 69 floors in the Bank of America Tower to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The climb raised $116,000.

"It's hard work," Bandy said. "But you feel pretty good knowing it is for a good cause."

The climb, called the "Firefighter Challenge," had its beginnings in a climb that civilians started 11 years ago when people got pledges to trek up the black skyscraper that dominates the Seattle skyline, also called the Columbia Tower.

When a firefighter participated in the climb, he suggested it would be more interesting if firefighters went up in full gear. The idea caught on and there are now two separate weekends for the fund-raiser, one for the civilians' climb and one for the firefighters' climb.

This firefighters' race requires them to don full gear, about 50 pounds of tanks, boots and heavy clothing, and leave the third floor to reach the 72nd floor via the stairwell.

They leave two at a time in 15-second intervals, and it takes a couple of hours for all the firefighters to get their chance to ascend the tower.

The more than 700 firefighters who participated in the event mostly come from the Northwest, but Bandy said more and more entrants are from fire departments in other states.

Although running up 69 floors is a predictably exhausting exercise, the firefighters said the experience is rewarding - and not just for the lunch that is served when they eventually reach the top.

"It's actually pretty fun," said Bandy, who finished the climb in 21 minutes, 35 seconds. "It's a good way of seeing how in shape you are."

Another challenge the pair gladly stepped up to was sponsorship. Firefighters collected pledges for the climb and Bandy and Svendsen raised $6,154, second only to the Seattle Fire Department's $6,608.

Svendsen was the top single fund-raiser for the event as well, raising $5,404 by herself.

"I always look forward to a challenge," said Svendsen, who finished the climb in 20:49. "I knew this would be a big one."

Bandy and Svendsen plan to climb the tower again next year and are trying to recruit more of their fellow firefighters to do the same. They think they have a few committed, but they may have to bend some arms to get more.

"Most of them just say, 'I'll watch this year,'" Bandy said.

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