Hope volunteer firefighter Rebecca Arrowsmith (shown with District of Hope fire chief

Hope volunteer firefighter Rebecca Arrowsmith (shown with District of Hope fire chief

Lungs of fire, so others can breathe easier

Firefighter Rebecca Arrowsmith will head off for her third race on the fire escape stairs at Sheraton Vancouver’s Wall Centre Hotel Feb. 26.

Perhaps when she’s 90 years old and struggling to step up to a sidewalk, Rebecca Arrowsmith will grin and recall the times she raced up 48 flights of stairs in 10 minutes — in full firefighter’s gear.

The 23-year-old volunteer firefighter will be suiting up for her third race on the fire escape stairs at Sheraton Vancouver’s Wall Centre Hotel Feb. 26. The firefighters’ event is part of the BC Lung Association’s annual Stairclimb for Clean Air fundraiser.

Racing up flights of stairs takes a great set of lungs — something which is lacking in about 20 per cent of B.C. residents, say the organizers. This year’s goal is $100,000 and money raised will help in the Lung Association’s programs:

• Fund new lung disease treatment and cures ($1 million given annually to B.C.-based research)

• Connect and support lung patients (manage a B.C.-wide network of Better Breathers support groups)

• Help people quit smoking and prevent kids from starting (provide quit support & education in schools)

• Advocate for early detection and treatment of chronic lung disease.

• Lead on the issue of air quality and public health

• Contribute to the fight to stop tuberculosis at home and abroad

District of Hope Fire Chief Tom DeSorcy is a volunteer director for the BC Lung Association and said the idea of the firefighters’ full-gear challenge was introduced after the annual plain clothes run was well established.

“It’s 48 storeys and 739 stairs,” said DeSorcy. “We have roughly 100 firefighters, career and volunteer, who turn out for it.”

While having no interest in trying it himself, he said a number of competitors have trouble with the restricted breathing from the Scott air pack and face mask.

“The air pack is fine for me, though some guys take off the face mask,” said Arrowsmith. “You do have enough air but by the time you get to the top, the alarm is going off for about the last five sets; probably only a few minutes of air left, when you’re breathing so hard.”

Running in heavy boots and a total of about 30 kilograms of turnout gear in her first attempt in 2015, Arrowsmith said she made the mistake of trying to skip a step. She soon realized it wasn’t going to work and made adjustments. Last year, she touched every step and was the fastest of four females, in 10 minutes and 37 seconds. She wants to beat 10 this year.

“Last year, every five or ten seconds, they were letting someone start,” she said. “You’re always passing someone or being passed.

“Some people have both hands on the railing and pull themselves up. Others have metronomes in their pocket, to set the pace. As long as you set a good pace, you can keep it up, the whole way.”

Elevators provide the ride back.

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