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Buckley firefighters making climb for cancer cure

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By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald

Soon after Buckley firefighter Jeff Cocker found out his mom had been diagnosed with a type of lymphoma, he received a brochure from his chief about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's annual firefighter stairclimb.

Neither Cocker, nor any other Buckley firefighter, had done the stairclimb before, and Fire Chief Alan Predmore's original efforts to generate interest for the event had fallen flat.

But after Cocker learned his mother had been diagnosed with lymphoma and another firefighter's mother had been diagnosed with cancer that same week, he had the impetus to organize a team.

"Jeff was the first person to say 'Well, I'm going to do this for my mom,' and started getting in shape," Predmore said. Then, another firefighter said he was not going to let Cocker do it alone, and the idea started to spread. Once four or five people joined the team, Predmore said he had to be part of it too.

Now, 10 Buckley firefighters will be competing in the 13th annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb March 7. Cocker said Buckley's team is competing in the stairclimb to honor both mothers, his friends who have been touched by cancer and to raise money for a worthy cause.

"I think everybody in our life has a friend or somebody in their life who has cancer," Cocker said. "And it makes me feel like I can do something for her, in addition to raising money for anybody who has cancer.

"If I can raise money and do something as challenging as this is going to be, I'll be happy," Cocker said. "I'm a Krispy Kreme kind of guy, not a stairclimb guy."

The stairclimb is a timed race to the top of the Bank of America Tower in Seattle. All participants wear full firefighting gear and a self-contained breathing apparatus. Leaving at intervals of 10 to 15 seconds, firefighters race up the 69-flight course with its 1,311 steps - 19 steps per flight - and 788 feet of vertical elevation.

At the 40th floor, firefighters will change air bottles, most likely helping each other out, Predmore said.

The stairclimb is one of many fund raisers sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which is committed to finding cures for leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. The society invests $32 million annually supporting more than 200 researchers, provides financial assistance to patients, sponsors scientific conferences throughout the country, produces educational materials and videos and runs more than 50 support groups nationwide. It receives no federal funding and relies on donations and fund raisers to support its programs.

Predmore has been pushing his firefighters to get into better shape, as an alarming number of firefighters die in the line of duty from heart attacks. He said the stairclimb is a perfect way to get in shape and raise money for a good cause.

Since the team was organized, firefighters have been training by climbing the back side of Mount Peak, outside Enumclaw, and climbing the steps in the watch tower at Mud Mountain Dam.

"None of us are going in with the thought in mind that we're going to win the race," Predmore said.

"We're all interested in seeing which firefighter reaches the top in the fastest time," Predmore said. "There's a little competition going on there, but we're really doing it to go up there and support some people."

Cocker said while he is determined to get in better shape, keeping up with Predmore on Mount Peak is hard.

"We're all working out tremendously hard," he said, adding some firefighters are donning gloves, boots, "the whole nine yards."

Cocker said his mom, while proud of her son and appreciative of the team, has mixed feelings about the whole thing because "this is all really new to her.

"I just don't know if she knows how to take this or not," he said.

Cocker does know he will be one of the firefighters to complete the event.

"There's no way I'm not going to do it all," he said. " We're going to start on the first floor and help each other get to the top as a team."

For Cocker, in addition to completing the event for his mom, it will also be a personal victory. He suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident 11 years ago and has never fully recovered.

"For me personally it's an uphill battle, but for others it will be easier," he said. "But I can promise you one thing right now, I will be at the top of those stairs on March 7, me and everyone else on my team."

Until then, in addition to training, the team will be raising money. The firefighters are having a car wash from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in the parking lot of Gamblin Motors of Buckley on state Route 410 with all proceeds going toward their fund-raising effort.

Cocker said the team's goal is to raise more money than any other team. Last year's winner was the Seattle Fire Department with $4,000.

Cocker said the fund raising is going well. His father has pledged $500 if Cocker climbs all 69 flights

People can make donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and donations can be mailed to, or dropped off at, the Buckley Fire Department at 151 S. Cedar St. Envelopes should be labeled Firefighter Stairclimb, c/o the Buckley Fire Department.

Jessica Keller can be reached at jkeller@courierherald.com

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