SLO firefighters will climb the Columbia Tower in Seattle today to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). | Olivia Proffit/Mustang News

A team of 19 San Luis Obispo county firefighters will climb 69 floors of the Columbia Tower in Seattle today. The challenge, called the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).  More than 1,900 firefighters from across the globe will participate.  

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Cal Poly alumnus Andy Carlin will be one of those firefighters.

Carlin works as a paid-call firefighter, a group of firefighters in the county who contract with Cal Fire and San Luis Obispo County Fire to respond to fire and EMT calls.

Like most other paid-call firefighters, Carlin has a full time job. He works in Cal Poly’s animal science department as a project manager.

“We complement and add staffing horsepower to Cal Fire,” he said. “The bulk of these people are looking to pursue a career in fire service — you’re the real deal.”

The team of 19 also includes three Cal Poly students and two Cal Poly employees. Civil engineering senior Adam Pearson said it will be his first year participating, but he’s prepared. To train, they have been climbing all six stories of Poly Canyon Village’s parking structure 15 times every Sunday morning.

“I’m super excited to do it,” Pearson said. “I think it’s going to be an awesome event to be able to help people affected by cancer.”

All of the event’s proceeds, including the $80 registration fee, go to the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society. Each firefighter had to raise at least $300 prior to the challenge day in order to participate. Carlin said registration often fills up within the hour.

Taking a on a whole new meaning

In 2015, the team wanted to better understand leukemia and lymphoma, so they “adopted” several local families who had been affected by one of the diseases. This year’s climb will honor six-year old Mateo Cota — the son of a Cal Poly employee — who has been battling leukemia since he was three. Cota was selected as one of the event’s two honorees.

Carlin said forming connections with the families was what inspired him to climb the tower.  

“It took on a whole new emotional meaning,” Carlin said.

The climb

For those who’ve passed the mark, the challenge began at 8 a.m. The firefighters stagger into the building every 12 seconds, each carrying more than 60 pounds of gear on their back. Most of the weight is concentrated in an air tank, which they may refill on the 40th floor.

“The fastest guys will do it in 10-12 minutes,” Carlin said. “In 2015, my time was 25 min. I hope to be close to that, but we’ll see.”

Each floor has its own EMT station to watch for people getting weak. Those who are unable to finish may go back on the elevator.

Pearson, like Carlin, is optimistic about the challenge. He thinks the training has prepared him.

“If the time comes to it and I’m starting to hurt, I’ll just think about those people and what they’re going through,” he said. “I’ll be able to push through.”

Carlin said many of paid-call firefighters go on to become full-time firefighters. Training for the program is the same as training to be a full-time firefighter, which he says makes it very rigorous.

“If a firefighter shows up, they’re not asking — are you a PCF or a full-timer? They’re saying, ‘you’re a firefighter, get your butt in there, let’s work.’”

All that being said, his experiences have been powerful. In his core, he wants to help people and make a difference.

“I want to be there to help people out in their darkest times,” he said. “Their house is on fire, they’re in a vehicle accident, their dad has had a heart attack — it’s a very compassionate thing to be able to be there at that time.”

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