2024 LLS Stairclimb event introduces non-turnout gear option

November 7, 2023

A new way to climb: LLS Stairclimb introduces apparel-only division

In a landmark move for an event steeped in tradition, the 2024 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Stairclimb competition is offering firefighters a new way to compete. For the first time in over three decades, participants will have the option to ascend the Columbia Center’s 69 floors without wearing full turnout gear.

This change provides a safer alternative for competitors and aligns with recent health and safety concerns surrounding firefighting gear.

Those interested in the upcoming event and the newly introduced category can find more information by visiting the official event page here.

Missoula, MT Local 271 firefighter Andrew Drobeck has welcomed the new division with open arms.

“When I went to sign up for the Stairclimb, I saw there was a new division, no turnout gear,” Drobeck shared.

His extensive competition history, which includes numerous LLS Stairclimb events and record-setting accomplishments, positions him as a strong advocate for the new division.

Firefighters support the shift away from turnout gear in Stairclimb event

Drobeck’s perspective is shared by union leadership. “We know that wearing turnouts is added danger to our members,” Ricky Walsh, 7th District Vice President, explained: “We should not be wearing them except in life-or-death situations and stop donning them for off-duty fundraisers.”

The LLS Stairclimb is a fundraising powerhouse for cancer research, having raised over $28 million since 1991.

Drobeck, a six-time winner in these climbs, noted the symbolic importance of turnout gear but also acknowledged the health risks associated with its use.

He argued the contradiction in wearing hazardous gear at an event aimed at promoting health and beating cancer.

Echoing Drobeck’s sentiments, Walsh commended the LLS Stairclimb’s decision to introduce the new division, expressing his gratitude: “I am grateful for the LLS Stairclimb team to get on board and add this category/option for our members doing the good work trying to stamp out Leukemia with their fundraising.”

In January, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) took a stand by hiring three nationally recognized law firms to lobby for changes in the regulatory standards concerning firefighter gear.

Edward Kelly, the General President, stressed the importance of education on the subject, advocating for proactive learning about the dangers of PFAS chemicals found in firefighting equipment.

With the introduction of the apparel-only division, Drobeck hopes to lead by example in next year’s competition, spreading the message for safer practices and future innovation in protective gear for firefighters.

He noted potential for significant change: “If there’s a very small amount of people doing that event with no gear, it’s probably going to be slow to change, but if we can make a statement, and have a large participation of no gear, I think we can make a shift to that event being nobody wearing their gear in a few years.”

FSJA Comment

The decision to offer a new competitive option without turnout gear at the LLS Stairclimb speaks to the evolving awareness within the firefighting community regarding their own health and safety.

Climbing the Columbia Center’s 69 floors in turnout gear has been a daunting task, symbolizing the resilience of firefighters and their solidarity with cancer patients.

However, as firefighting equipment comes under scrutiny for containing potentially harmful substances, it’s crucial that traditions do not overshadow the welfare of the participants.

The modification of competition rules reflects a progressive step towards prioritizing the well-being of firefighters, who routinely risk their lives for the safety of others.

By endorsing the Open Division, the LLS Stairclimb is not only adapting to modern health standards but also fostering an environment where advocacy for cancer research does not come at the expense of the participants’ health.

It’s a balancing act between honoring the spirit of the climb and safeguarding the climbers, one that will likely influence future protocols across similar events.

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