When Creve Coeur firefighter Scot Heller climbs to the top of the second tallest building west of the Mississippi River on Sunday, it will be to fight cancer, not to fight fires. Heller will one of only 1,552 firefighters participating in the 22nd Annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb on Sunday in Seattle, WA.
This annual event benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services. The mission of LLS is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
For Heller, this event, and the money it raises, hits very close to home—his father, Dale, is battling an aggressive form of cancer: chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Dale will be Scot's "air-pack changing partner" for the event, waiting for him on the 40th floor to assist with switching out his air, if needed. Participants must finish with some air at the end of the race, so the Heller team will have to make a critical decision during Saturday's race regarding whether Scot will risk trying to keep going without changing air packs to save the seconds it would take to switch to a fresh one.
"I can't wait for this; yes, I have butterflies, but I'm ready to go," said Heller.
As a Creve Coeur Fire Protection District firefighter at station No. 1, Heller knows what it's like to have full gear on. But to be in full gear, including boots, helmet, gloves and air pack, and running up 69 flights of stairs while trying to get the best time is a whole other endeavor. He said he started training on the district's StairMaster during November and December, then stepped it up via an Insanity training DVD workout after the holidays.
He began to work out in full firefighting gear by mid-January, and started watching his diet to drop a full pounds.
"All the gear itself weighs about 50 pounds, so I decided if I could lose some weight, that would help balance out the extra pounds I had to carry," said Scot. "My family has been very supportive, by watching what they eat, too."
He said he also used the outdoor tower at the district's station for training. "I used to get winded by 25 to 30 floors. Now I can do the floors and still have air left."
Scot's mother, Vickie, said they couldn't be more proud of their son. He is the first Creve Coeur firefighter to enter into the stairclimb event, which attracts participants from the United States and a handful of other countries.
He wanted to try to enter the fundraising event last year, but it "sold out" before he could get himself into the mix. This year, he said he got online ahead of time and managed to snap up a spot. He said the event sold out in 11 minutes this time.
"They will play bag pipes for the opening ceremonies, and I think this is going to be quite an emotional deal," said Scot.
A firefighter starts the climb every 14 seconds during a given heat. The event lasts all Saturday until the heats are completed.
Last year's stairclimb event raised a record $1.2 million. The event will be held in downtown Seattle at the Columbia Center (formerly Bank of America Tower) building, which is taller than the St. Louis Arch.
Dale Heller is eager to help his son in any way he can. He found out five years ago after a perforated colon that his white cell count was not what it should be. "But I was told it was dormant, not to worry. But a blood test at the end of 2010 indicated it turned bad quickly. By January 2011, I was taken treatments. It basically went full-blown in only about two days."
Dale said he's had chemo treatments at Missouri Baptist Hospital, making the hour trip from the Heller's home of Red Bud, IL. "I take it day by day. I work my job before and after all the treatment cycles, and just keep going."
Jerry McQueen, Creve Coeur deputy fire marshal and public information officer, said at first they were tempted to put rocks in Scot's pockets to jokingly mess with him during his training. "But when we found out he was doing this in honor of his dad, we couldn't be more happy and are rooting him on."
McQueen said Scot has become an inspiration, and has increased awareness of leukemia and lymphoma locally.
"This race will take a lot from me. But that 15 minutes of racing is nothing compared to the hours, the weeks and the months that people with leukemia spend feeling horrible," said Scot.