TONASKET — Two firefighters, Brian Lee and James Gasho, from the Tonasket Fire Department, joined fellow firefighters from 37 states, France and Canada in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Firefighter Stairclimb held in downtown Seattle last Sunday.
The two men joined 2000 other career or volunteer firefighters to climb Seattle’s tallest building in support of blood cancer research and patient care.
In full turnout gear, participants had to climb 69 floors of stairs for a total of 1,356 steps to reach the top of the observatory.The LLS Firefighter Stairclimb, in its 32 years of operation, has raised over $24 million for cancer research.
Lee, also an avid hiker, has served in the fire department for a year and said the event was not only a good challenge but a personal one for him.
“I have lots of relatives and friends who have fought cancer or have passed. It was definitely worth my time to do it,” said Lee.
Five years ago, Lee was inspired by a conversation with his daughter and started his own journey of regaining health by hiking.
“I went through a lot of medical stuff, I had heart issues and had all sorts of pill cocktails trying to keep my heart beating,” said Lee.
According to Lee, he told his daughter he was going to get off the couch and start walking. Where once he struggled to walk halls at the high school, Lee said his record for his longest hike is 100 miles.
“I’m always looking for some kind of challenge. When I saw this come up, I thought what a great opportunity to do something for a good cause.”
Lee said Tonasket Fire Chief Andy Gasho was very supportive of his participation in the event.
“He told me, ‘go for it.’ His son, James Gasho wanted to do it too,” said Lee.
Lee said there is a waiting list, and he wasn’t sure if Gasho (also a student in Lee’s Horticulture class at Tonasket High School) would be able to join him for the event which historically fills up fast.
“We talk about firefighting stuff all of the time. James is the one who tried to get me to join the fire department, for a long time. He finally talked me into it. I think he’s been on the back of a firetruck since he was able to put on the gear. He was able to get in on the event too, which was really cool. We trained together and went to Seattle and got it done,” said Lee.
He said training for the event took place at the fire station and the North Cascades Athletic Club in Omak where they were able to track their floors.
“There aren’t any buildings in Okanogan County that are 69 floors, so we had to find something,” said Lee.
According to Lee, the training received at the Tonasket Fire Department is top notch and the department is always looking for volunteers.
“They really teach you how to be a firefighter in Tonasket,” said Lee.
While firefighting at your local fire department is a commitment, Lee said, “it’s worth the time to serve the community.”
Recalling last Sunday’s event, Lee said the opening ceremony was powerful as people shared their stories of loved ones who have fought or are fighting cancer.
“All along the way there are photos of family and friends who you are doing the climb for. The whole way up the stairwell, you see the faces. It’s really hard when you are trying to stay calm and get up those stairs. In my case, it was my father-in-law,” he said.
Lee had the same photos on his helmet, as he ascended the stairs.
“I carried them with me to the top,” he said.
Gasho, 18, a senior at Tonasket High School and a firefighter since he was 16, grew up around the fire hall his whole life. One might say Gasho has had fire in his bones since childhood, as his father, Andy Gasho is the Tonasket Fire Chief.
“This was a fun opportunity and I wanted to be a part of the event. It was tough to not quit. The thought of all of the people who donated, kept me going. I wanted to show that I actually care,” said Gasho.
Gasho and his team raised over $3,000 in donations for the cause.
“There are a lot of people who care about those who are fighting cancer. There were a lot of firefighters there. Hopefully, I get to go back again,” said Gasho.