EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 26, 2013

Climbing for a cause

City, town firefighters gear for lung disease benefit

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Firefighters from three of Cape Ann’s communities will suit up in 60 pounds of firefighting gear and race up 82 flights of stairs — that’s 798 steps — at the 41-story Boston Place building in Boston.

Funds raised during this American Lung Association Fight for Air Climb support research of lung diseases, and Gloucester’s firefighters have a special driving force behind their effort; they’re raising money for American Lung Association research in memory of Michael Smith, a Gloucester firefighter who died after a battle with lung cancer in July.

So far, Gloucester’s team of five has raised $390, but the guys hope to draw in more donations in the final fund-raising week, which finishes on the day of the climb a week from today, according to Nicholas Ouellette, a Gloucester Firefighters team member in the stair climb.

“We lost a guy to occupational cancer, so this cancer research, it’s really important to us,” said Ouellette, who wore a T-shirt Friday with a Michael Smith quote on back. “Hug a Firefighter...Save a Life,” it reads.

Just one of Gloucester’s team members, Chad Mota, ran the stairs last year. Mota finished in 9 minutes and 37 seconds in the 2012 climb, while carrying his 60 pounds of firefighting equipment. The other men, Kevin Gargan, Mike Mitchell, Robert Gerety Jr., and Ouellette are new to the team, but ready to hit the 789 stairs, Ouellette said.

“We’re nervous, but it’s 10 minutes of hard work and you’re done,” Ouellette said.

The Gloucester firefighters are not alone.

Manchester and Essex firefighters, along with the owners of CrossFit Gloucester, have also been training hard — and fund-raising hard too, with $1960 collected as of Friday night. Three members of the Manchester Firefighters team raced to the top last year and in 2011, including team captain Mike Soucy.

Soucy finished in 9 minutes and 26 seconds last year. Climbing so quickly is tough, he said, but the sooner you finish, the fewer sweaty people you’re following up, he reasoned.

“After a few thousand people going up the stairwell in front of us it gets a little dank,” Soucy said. But, he added “It’s all for a good cause.”

Manchester firefighters Thomas Aldrich and Josh Butler will reclimb the stairs this year as part of the Manchester team, too. Aldrich reached the 798th step in 10:31 seconds last year and Butler completed the climb in 10:52. Essex firefighters David Barrett and Josh Butler, Manchester Fire Chief Glen Rogers, and CrossFit Gloucester owners Jon Conant and Karen Conant complete the team.

Gloucester’s Mota said the GFD team has been training at the gym and through public training sessions at buildings like a 7-story building in Danvers. But, Mota said, it’s hard to find a comparable environment for training. For one thing, the air in the top stairwells of the Boston building can get very dehydrated. Because the air gets so dry, volunteers hand out cough drop to climbers as they break through to the top of flight 82, Mota said.

“You really can’t train for it. It’s tough. You get 10 flights up and you think, ‘This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,’” said Mota. “When you’re there though it’s a lot of fun.”

And to answer the burning question that climbers say is most frequently asked, yes, they do ride elevators back down from the top. Mota noted that, though cancer is a terrible disease, fundraising to research a cure sometimes falls to the back of our minds.

“You get so caught up in just living your life, you don’t realize it,” Mota said. “It would be nice to find a cure for something so horrible.”

To donate to either the Gloucester Firefighters or Manchester Firefighters’ teams, go to the American Lung Association’s event website by clicking http://bit.ly/WZfWxr and searching for the participant or team you would like to support.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.