Firefighters climb Minneapolis skyscraper stairs for a good cause

Climbing 95 flights of stairs would be exhausting work. Now imagine doing it with 45 pounds of gear strapped to you.

Jim Thomas, Kevin Koschak, John Hale, Kevin McNallan and Carl Olson climbed 95 flights of stairs in the Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis to raise $2,010 for a Minnesota Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraiser.

Jim Thomas, Kevin Koschak, John Hale, Kevin McNallan and Carl Olson climbed 95 flights of stairs in the Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis to raise $2,010 for a Minnesota Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraiser. Submitted photo

That is what five local firefighters did April 20 and while they had a good time pushing themselves one step at a time, the main reason they did this was to raise money for the Minnesota Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The Andover Fire Department team raised $2,010, which was the fifth highest amount out of the 49 teams that participated in the fourth annual Big Climb fundraiser at the Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis.

The Andover fire team also led the way with the fastest combined time of 1 hour, 47 minutes, 7 seconds. The five team members all started at once, but some were faster than others. They had to run from the bottom to the top of the Capella Tower twice and take the elevator on the way down between climbs to get to 95 flights. The four highest times were combined to determine which team was the fastest.

Kevin Koschak had the fastest time of any firefighter at 23 minutes, 29 seconds. The best part of the experience is getting together with his friends to train and share some laughs, he said.

According to Koschak, he has been the fastest of the group in the three years they have participated and was the one who brought up the idea after his cousin was diagnosed with leukemia, which is now in remission.

“It’s a way to raise money and an opportunity for us to get in shape,” said Koschak, who is in his third year volunteering with the Andover Fire Department. He also owns a construction company.

The competitive fundraiser was in the Capella Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Minneapolis, for the first time this year. It previously was at the Fifth Street Towers.

Besides Koschak, the Andover team this year included Kevin McNallan of the Andover Fire Department; John Hale, a former Andover and current Rogers firefighter; Jim Thomas of the Ham Lake Fire Department; and Carl Olson of the Rogers Fire Department.

Koschak said team membership has changed a little in the last three years, but the Andover team has been the fastest firefighter team for two out of the past three years, he said.

Hale has a neighbor with leukemia and he has been involved in multiple fundraisers for other causes, so he was interested in signing up.

McNallan was looking to challenge himself physically, he said.

Koschak said the turnout gear including the air tank, helmet, steel-toe boots and protective clothing weighs 45 pounds.

McNallan has run marathons and triathlons so he has great stamina, but climbing 95 flights of stairs with 45 pounds of gear really wears out the muscles and they were sprinting most of the way. Turnout gear is also not designed for air flow because it must protect a firefighter from flames. It is thus good at keeping the heat out and keeping the heat in.

“You end up a pile of sweat when you’re done,” said McNallan, who works in the information technology department at the Anoka County Government Center.

To prepare for this unique challenge, the team climbed nine flights of stairs from the county government center basement to its roof 10 times to build up their endurance.

Koschak said the cumbersome helmet and boots are a bigger issue than the turnout gear weight. Firefighters from some other departments wore tennis shoes instead of the heavy boots.

Most of the 439 participants on the 49 teams were civilians in comfortable running clothes, according to Pat Gale, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s campaign coordinator. There were 18 firefighters on four different teams.

All teams raised a total of $60,000, Gale said.

Eric Hagen is at
[email protected]

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