KINGSTON — Twice a week for two months, Scott Bothe put on all of his firefighter gear and climbed up and down the stairs in the two-story fire-training tower 36 times, equaling the number of flights he’ll climb on March 12 in Seattle’s Columbia Center.
When he felt fatigued, when the breaths came hard or his aching legs tried to compel him to stop, he kept on — driven by the pain felt by others on a daily basis, driven to climb another step for those who fight every day just to live.
“It’s about the cause. I like to help people,” Bothe said during an interview at the North Kitsap Fire & Rescue headquarters station. “I hit a block, and then I think about why I’m doing it.”
He’ll take that commitment with him on March 12 when he climbs 69 flights of stairs in the 26th annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (www.llswa.org). He and seven other firefighters from NKF&R will participate in the climb; as of March 10, they’d raised $3,762 for the LLS.
NKF&R’s team: team captain Kris Osera, Ardyl Abrigo, Jonathan Bailey, Craig Barnard, Samuel Berni, Janelle Randles, Scott Trueblood, Sherman Williamson, and Bothe. From Poulsbo Fire: team captain Juanitta Lang, Dustin Pickert, and Justin Zeigler.
The Scott Stairclimb — so named for the event sponsor, Scott Safety, a manufacturer of firefighting equipment — will be the first of two in a week for Bothe. He will leave on March 15 for New York City, where he’ll don his gear for the third annual New York City Memorial Stair Climb (www.nycfirefighterclimb.com) — 72 flights of stairs in the new World Trade Center. This year’s beneficiaries of the climb are Friends of Firefighters and The 9/11 Tribute Center.
The stair climbs are timed events, and firefighters compete for best times and for most funds raised. But it’s also catharsis and tribute for Kingston and Poulsbo firefighters. Never far from their minds is NKF&R firefighter Tom Kenyon, who died from leukemia on March 8, 1997 at age 33. This year, they’ll also carry with them the memory of Bremerton firefighter/paramedic James C. Hendryx, 47, who died Jan. 17 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hendryx was a Poulsbo resident.
About the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb: Columbia Center in downtown Seattle is the second-tallest building west of the Mississippi — 788 feet of vertical elevation, 69 floors of stairs, 1,356 steps. Firefighters run in heats and starts are staggered.
Stair climb organizers say participating in the climb is “a physical triumph,” but is also symbolic of “the strenuous journey that all cancer patients endure. As firefighters race to the top of Seattle’s tallest building, they keep in mind that every step forward is symbolic of moving towards finding a cure for all those battling a blood cancer.”
The 2016 stair climb — featuring more than 1,900 firefighters from 330 departments in five countries — raised $2.3 million for blood-cancer research and patient services. Since its inception, the stair climb has raised $12 million for the LLS.
All told, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has invested more than $1 billion to develop cancer therapies and advance the production and application of many drug treatments.
Bothe, 22, grew up in Turlock, California, but moved here with his family eight years ago and graduated from North Kitsap High School. A construction worker by day, he was a volunteer EMT with Poulsbo Fire before graduating from the firefighter academy in July 2015 and joining NKF&R. He is the son of Lynda and Craig Bothe; Craig is a former fire chief now serving as a King County sheriff’s officer.
Bothe said he believes he can do the stair climb in 20 minutes, but his goal is 18. One thing he’s bracing for: the heat. The temperature inside your gear can reach 100 degrees. All that body heat bumps up the temperature in the stairwell too.
Bothe is looking forward to the challenge. He looks at the stairclimb and the cause the same way he looks upon his responsibility as a firefighter/EMT.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “But the community depends on us.”