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Firefighters to climb for a friend

"Dressed in full firefighting turnouts, Tom Peterson (foreground) huffs it on a Stairmaster at the Island Athletic Club along with fellow Fire District 3 firefighters Eldon Baker, Mike Angelo, Christina Parker, Jim Towers, Don Smith, Darin Reid, and John Shields. They are preparing for this year's firefighter stairclimb at the Columbia Tower.Matt Johnson / staff photoOn March 18, 10 South Whidbey firefighters will run up 69 flights of stairs in Seattle's Columbia Tower wearing face masks, oxygen tanks, rubber boots, and about 50 more pounds of other firefighting equipment.This is not a restaging of The Towering Inferno, as much as it might look that way. After taking the year off in 2000, Fire Protection District 3 firefighters are climbing the tower along with firefighters from all over Washington to raise money for the American Leukemia Society.And to see who is the fastest stair climber in the state. In 2001 fire district volunteers will run a little harder for the pledges they are currently collecting for the event. This year they are running for a friend. In early January, Langley firefighter Bill Borton was diagnosed with leukemia, the disease the tower climb is dedicated to stamping out. District firefighters did not raise enough pledge money to do the climb last year and missed the event for the first time in four years. This year, the district is putting forth its biggest team ever, and there is no pulling out at the last minute. Bill Borton is counting on them.Borton, a 20-year volunteer with the district, just returned home last week after a month of leukemia treatments in Everett. He was training to do the Columbia Tower climb until the week he was diagnosed. Now, he is hoping he can at least be at the tower to watch the climb.It'll be great to get a whole bunch of people there, he said.Borton's illness came as a shock to his fellow volunteers, but it has inspired them to work hard for this year's climb. Chief Don Smith, who all but vowed to quit running the event two years ago when he did it at age 50, said he is back this year to run for Borton.It really kinda brought things home for us, Smith said.Borton is a long-time community volunteer and school district custodian. He was so well-liked and respected by high school students that last year's annual was dedicated to him.Firefighter Tom Peterson agrees with Chief Smith, and said this year's stair climb has special meaning because of Borton's recent diagnosis.Because one of our own has leukemia, he said.The district stair-climbing team got together at the Island Athletic Club Saturday for a dry run of the stair climb. Dressed in full firefighting gear and wearing and breathing from oxygen tanks, the firefighters climbed onto Stairmasters and elliptical trainers to do a few floors of training. Eldon Baker and Mike Angelo stayed on the longest, doing more than 30 floors of climbing. Baker, one of the younger firefighters with the district, said he hopes to place in the top 10 at the Columbia Tower.Participating firefighters will be collecting pledges for their climbs. In addition, community members who want to donate to the fight against leukemia can pledge at the Island Athletic Club or at fire district headquarters on Howard Road. Firefighters will also do a good deal of internal fund-raising for Borton, who could be off work for months while fighting his disease.It's a bad deal, Borton said.To find out more about the fund-raising effort, call the district at 321-1533.Winning times for the Columbia Tower climb are usually in the 15-minute range. The record stair run for the tower for an unencumbered runner is about 10 minutes. "

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