Climbing for a cure

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Sequim’s David Silliman ascends the Seattle tower to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma 

Sequim Gazette

Pandemonium describes the finish line at the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, hosted annually for the past 21 years in Seattle’s Columbia Center. Firefighters dash out of the stairwell at the 73rd floor while equipment removal crews swarm around them to pull off the 50 pounds of bunker equipment. Volunteers shout, “We’ve got a hero coming through!” and the clanging of oxygen bells fills the air.


The Scott Firefighter Stairclimb is an annual race that has raised millions of dollars since its inaugural event in 1990. Fifteen hundred firefighters descended on the Seattle’s Columbia Center to climb more than 1,300 stairs to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Among these were firefighters from the Port Angeles Fire Department: Dan Montana, Kelly Ziegler, Doug Eaton, Jake Patterson and Sequim High School alumnus David Silliman.

Silliman decided to attempt the climb after volunteering for the 2012 event as a tank exchanger on the 41st floor. After narrowly making it in for the sign up — the climb maxed out 11 minutes after sign-ups opened in October — Silliman dedicated the next four months to training for the climb, from strength training in the gym to running the Armory Square stairs with a weight vest. While he could have made it without as much exercise, he was motivated to get a good time.


“I wanted to complete it and knew I could complete it. If you go through life thinking you can just get by doing the minimum, you’re never going to get anywhere.”


Arriving at the Columbia Tower at 9:20 a.m. Sunday, Silliman was anxious to get moving. He spent some time visiting with friends in other fire departments before gearing up. His coat is a bulky fit, and he stuffs his trouser legs into his boots. His wife, Charisa helps him with his gloves and hands him his hat. Finally, he throws on a harness with the air tank and heads to the first floor to get on deck. Once in the stairwell, he threw on an iPhone playlist, cracked a chemlight, and powered up the stairs, only stopping on the 41st floor to exchange air tanks.

‘It felt amazing’

As he cleared the 73rd floor, he swiped his arm across the table to disable the timer, then raised it triumphantly in the air. His goal was a finish time in the low 20 minutes and his actual finish time came in at 22:50. “It felt amazing, felt good,” he said. “You’re in the stairwell and climbing and you want to give up because you’re tired and worn out, and then you think about these kids with leukemia. They cant give up, so why should we?”


Silliman was proud of his participation in the climb because it contributed to a specific purpose in a fun and challenging way. He was happy to raise money for the society because he was in a similar situation, having been born with a respiratory problem and spending the first two years of his life in the hospital. “I love to support people in the hospital, especially kids who are in the hospital not for something they did but something they were born with.”


The stair climb is an offshoot of the annual Seattle Big Climb to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and is sponsored by Scott Safety. Several years after the creation of the Big Climb, firefighters broke off their own event to make the climb in turnout gear. It combines competition, camaraderie and public service in a single day, with firefighters from around the world gathering to share experiences and race while simultaneously raising money for the society.


In 2012, the firefighter teams raised more than $600,000, and while organizers are still tallying totals, they hope to break $1 million this year. Every firefighter that signs up is obligated to raise a $150 minimum and then raises additional funds from friends, family and other individuals.


To date, Silliman has raised a little over $200, but hopes to double that by end of month. If he raises at least $1,000, he’ll be automatically eligible for early registration for next year’s climb.


He plans to set up fundraising tables at Albertson’s, Swain’s General Store and Safeway in the next few weeks to help the effort. Those wishing to donate to Silliman’s fund can find him at and using the donate button in the top left hand corner to search for his name.


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