Missoula, MT Local 271 Fire Fighter Andrew Drobeck is not afraid of a little competition, especially when it’s for a good cause.
“I did LLS Stairclimb competitions, the World Police and Fire Games, attempted the Guinness World Record for fastest half-marathon in turnout gear, and got the Guinness World Record for the fastest mile in turnout gear,” said Drobeck. “I’ve been doing a lot of competitions in gear.”
For more than three decades, except for the virtual climbs in 2020 and 2021, participants in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Stairclimb competitions were required to compete in full turnout gear, but there’s a new option for 2024.
“When I went to sign up for the Stairclimb, I saw there was a new division, no turnout gear,” Drobeck said. “That’s when I reached out to the organizers and talked to 7th District Vice President Ricky Walsh.”
“We know that wearing turnouts is added danger to our members,” said Walsh. “We should not be wearing them except in life-or-death situations and stop donning them for off-duty fundraisers.”
The event, held at the Columbia Center in Downtown Seattle, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi, is the largest stair climb competition for fire fighters, raising more than $28 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since 1991. At 788 feet of vertical elevation, climbers ascend 69 floors, and 1,356 steps to the Sky View Observatory.
“Doing those events in gear is kind of our identity as fire fighters,” said Drobeck. “Part of the reason people liked the challenge of wearing their gear, is that it was sort of symbolic of the battle cancer patients face.”
As an avid competitor, he has participated in 12 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Stairclimb competitions, winning six, with all proceeds benefitting the fight to end cancer.
Drobeck believes that the recent alteration allowing participants in the new Open Division to wear just apparel, a helmet, and shoes represents a positive move in the right direction.
“Ignorance is bliss, and you don’t know what you don’t know,” said Drobeck. “How can I go to an event promoting beating cancer, while wearing gear that has all these bad side effects, with cancer being one of them,” said Drobeck. “It just didn’t seem to make sense to me.”
“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,” said Walsh. “This is a true partnership that will be beneficial for our members.”
In 2022, the IAFF and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association announced they were leading the charge to change the regulatory standards currently in place.
“Education is an important defense in our battle to take on cancer in the fire service,” said General President Edward Kelly. “The more that members learn about the risks and dangers of PFAS forever chemicals, the better they can protect themselves and their families.”
“Until next-generation, PFAS-free protective gear is in the hands of every fire fighter, we must reduce our needless exposure to these carcinogens,” said Kelly. “I commend Brother Drobeck for advocating for this important measure.”
In January, the IAFF retained three nationally recognized law firms to change those regulatory standards
“If the IAFF is making this push, we should be right there with them making that push,” said Drobeck.
As Drobeck prepares to compete in next year’s competition without his turnout gear, he’s hoping to spread the message and blaze a new path.
“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, and hopefully in a few years, there’s safe gear,” said Drobeck.
Participants also have the option to change divisions after registering for the upcoming LLS Stairclimb competition taking place on March 10, 2024. For more information, visit llswa.org.