Losing one of their own to lung cancer has galvanized Burnaby firefighters in their efforts to raise funds for research, patient support, health education and advocacy.
Thirty five local firefighters will be at the B.C. Lung Association’s Climb the Wall fundraiser in Vancouver this month.
For almost 20 years, Climb the Wall has seen firefighters and other fundraisers climb all 48 storeys of the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre to raise money for the association’s work.
Until last year, about eight to 10 Burnaby firefighters took part in the event every year.
After local fire Captain Ken Kinney was diagnosed with lung cancer, however, the whole department rallied, and 25 firefighters participated last year, claiming all three spots on the podium in the firefighter division as well as earning top individual and top team fundraising honours.
Kinney was a healthy, fit non-smoker, and his death of lung cancer drove home the reality that firefighters face an elevated risk of certain cancers because of exposure to toxic chemicals, according to Joel Nacauli, co-captain of Burnaby’s Climb the Wall team.
“It was really hard losing Ken to lung cancer,” he said. “We just knew what kind of person he was, and I think it really brought our department together. And, as far as the climb, it just means a lot to us. It could happen to any of us.”
This year’s team will keep the name established for the fundraiser last year – The Climb for Tinman, based on a nickname for Kinney, who lost his battle to cancer in June.
“We’re just trying to continue Ken’s legacy here,” Nacauli said.
Kinney’s death drove home the importance of the climb as a fundraiser for the lung association, but firefighters are also a competitive bunch, according to Nacauli.
For about a month now, he said they’ve been meeting at a 25-storey Brentwood once or twice a week and going from top to bottom in full gear about five to seven times.
“We’ve been doing this for years,” Nacauli said, “so most of the residents know that we go there for training.”
At the event, Burnaby will go up against firefighters from more than 20 departments from around the province.
Participants go flat out carrying 50 pounds of firefighting gear and are pretty exhausted by the time they get to the top, but Nacauli said that’s a privilege.
“It is hard, but at the same time, we look at it as we have the opportunity to train for this, whereas people who are affected by lung disease or some sort of breathing difficulty, they don’t have the opportunity like we do.”
To date, Burnaby firefighters have raised about $40,000 at the event.
Climb the Wall takes place on Feb. 23.
To make a donation visit www.stairclimb.ca, click donate and search for the team ‘Burnaby Firefighters’ or search a specific firefighter by name.