Firefighters are ready for a straight-up challenge


Staff writer

The tallest building on the West Coast, the 76-story Bank of America Tower in downtown Seattle, stands 997 feet in the air –– breathtaking, particularly for the hundreds of firefighters (12 from Federal Way) who will be storming its stairwells in the 12th annual Firefighter Challenge this Sunday.

The event is a fund-raiser for the Washington-Alaska Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This year’s goal is to raise $125,000 to support the society’s five major programs –– research, patient aid, public and professional education and community service.

About 800 firefighters will take the challenge. Participants must step on every stair as they ascend 69 flights of the tower.

“For anyone to wear 60 pounds of gear, breathe bottled air, deal with the physical constrictions of the whole ensemble and then climb as fast as they can for 69 flights of stairs, they have my admiration,” said Merrick McGinnis, one of the Federal Way firefighters who will compete.

“The other big factor is heat build-up. Our gear traps in heat, which fatigues the wearer greatly.”

Last year’s winner charged up the tower in 12 minutes, while others took nearly an hour, according to McGinnis. The event record is 11 minutes and 28 seconds. The best finish by a Federal Way firefighter was in 1998, when Paul Mernaugh took third place overall at 14:21.

The Federal Way Fire Department will be represented by assistant chief Ed Plumlee, deputy chief Pat Kettenring, and firefighters Roy Smith, Anthony John, Eric Suckoll, Aaron Weeks, Chris Burdyshaw, Shane Smith, Todd Williams, Greg Willett, Layne Winter and McGinnis.

Intra-department rivalry has developed between senior and junior firefighters. Two who are competing, Plumlee and Kettenring, are older and higher-ranking than all the others.

Plumlee and Kettenring recently practiced for the event by hiking two miles in the snow. The Bank of America Tower is about a one-mile climb.

Some firefighters are asking sponsors to pledge one penny per stair climbed; the tower has 1,311 stairs. The Federal Way department is accepting donations at 31617 First Ave S.

Staff writer Kenny Ching: 925-5565

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