Local firemen win ‘Firefighter Challenge’ for fifth year in a row

Todd ThorsonStaff Writertthorson@storycityherald.com
Local firemen win ‘Firefighter Challenge’ for fifth year in a row

For the fifth year in a row, four members of the Story City Volunteer Fire Department won the “Firefighter Challenge” of the American Lung Association’s 2016 Fight For Air Climb held Sunday morning, April 10, in downtown Des Moines. Nearly 2,000 people participated in the four building climb, including more than 30 firehouses from across the state. A total of 85 floors and 1796 steps were canvassed by the many participants, all for a unique fund raising event that draws attention to the fight against lung disease, and also generates awareness in personal health and fitness

The winning team from Story City included firefighters Ryan Peterson, Brian Watson, Trent Whipple and Tyler Oberender. This was the Story City team’s sixth year competing in the 13-year-old event, which has raised more than $1.5 million over that time period. The four buildings used for the climb included the EMC Insurance Company (15 floors), the Financial Center (22 floors), the Hub Tower (16 floors) and the Ruan Center (32 floors).

The Story City men began training at the beginning of the year. The group would meet at the Story City Fitness Center once a week to run the stairs in the gym. They would do various workouts each week in order to push themselves and to lower their overall times. And they did so in full firemen’s gear, just as they would have to do on the day of the actual climb.

“Most (of our) workouts consisted of running 20 flights, trying to beat our lowest times each week,” said Brian Watson. “The training was tough and trying at times, but when we got to the top of that fourth building, on the day of the climb, we knew that it was all worth it.”

“As a team, I felt like we prepared together very well,” added Trent Whipple about their training regimen. “Even on days when a guy couldn’t make it to train, he would make it up another time. We even got our Fire Chief Lysle Macdonald to train with us this year.”

Of the 30 or more firefighter teams, 15 competed in the Volunteer Firefighter division, including the Story City foursome. The local group’s winning time was 16:24.

“Leading up to the (big) day, we all started to wonder about what the competition was going to be like when we got there,” commented Ryan Peterson. “Questions ran through our heads like: How many teams will there be? Will there be a faster, younger team there (this year)?”

Set up as a relay race, each member of the four-man team climbs to the top of one of the four buildings. Then the times are added together to arrive at an overall time. Tyler Oberender scaled the stairs at the Hub Tower. Brian Watson ran the stairs at the Ruan Center. Trent Whipple climbed the 22 floors of the Financial Center and Ryan Peterson’s part of the race was at the EMC Insurance building, which was 15 floors and 371 steps. This year Ryan finished with a time of 3:34.

“Just before we started, as we were lining up, I started to picture the climb in my head, mentally preparing myself,” explained Peterson. “Once I started my climb, I focused on beating my time from the previous year and pacing myself so that I didn’t start too fast and (hopefully) finish strong. When I reached the top I was exhausted, but happy to know that all the hard work paid off.”

This year’s climb raised over $300,000, with $.89 of every dollar raised going toward the American Lung Association’s many programs and services, including Lung Force, the American Lung Association Action Network, Asthma Basics, Better Breathers Clubs, the Facing Lung Cancer website, Freedom From Smoking and the Lung HelpLine.

“Personally, this year was a little different because I had a new building to run (the Financial Center),” said Trent Whipple. “You not only prepare physically, but mentally as well. I didn’t know what to expect with this building, but it went well and I was happy with my climb.”

Another fun aspect of the climb for the Story City guys is getting to know other firefighters from across the state. “We all enjoy the competition and the motivation it brings to staying in shape, knowing that another year is coming,” added Peterson.

Also, the concensus of the foursome was that they couldn’t do all this without the wonderful support of their families, friends and the community.

“We enjoy the event and are grateful that we can represent such a great town!” said Watson.

Whipple also wanted to thank everyone for their support, both financially and through their words of encouragement, and they all look forward to training and competing again in 2017.

“The support we received from our community has been amazing,” added Whipple. “People stop and ask me about the climb all the time, and it’s fun to converse about it. And we truly appreciate the support from them, our friends, and our families.”