Firefighters use UMass library to train for stair climbing competition

By Andy Castillo

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The distinct mechanical sounds of self-contained breathing apparatuses reverberate down the spiraling staircase of the University of Massachusetts’s W.E.B. Du Bois library as Belchertown firefighters, fully clad in protective equipment, race to the top floor.

They are training for the Fight for Air Climb on Saturday in Boston to raise money for the American Lung Association. During the event, participants will climb 41 floors of stairs and compete for the best time. To train, the firefighters climb all flights of stairs in the library, twice.

“This is the largest building in Western Massachusetts,” said Ernie Flory, a Belchertown firefighter. “We’ve been training for this.”

“Firefighters are required to do heavy work on the fire ground as well as be able to perform for extended periods,” Flory added. “Therefore, strength and endurance are two traits that firefighters need to maintain.”

Physical fitness is imperative to firefighter safety, but more than that, lung related injuries are a serious job risk, so this fundraiser hits close to home.

“There are a lot of different hazards that firefighters face every day – chemicals, smoke, fiberglass particles and insulation – sometimes you don’t know that you’ve been exposed,” Belchertown Fire Chief Ted Bock said. “Lung injuries can affect all firefighters.”

According to the American Lung Association’s website, the climb raises money for “those who can’t breathe on their own.” About $350,000 has been raised for the American Lung Association so far.

“We’ve raised over $1,000,” Flory said. “This is the first year we’ve been able to form a team to do this event.”

The event will be held at the Boston Building Company’s skyscraper, which is 601 feet tall and the fourth tallest building in the city.  Last year Andrew Hashway completed the challenge in 4 minutes 25 seconds for first place.

Andy Castillo can be reached at [email protected].