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Firefighter clears the air

Sean Ward organizes BC Lung stair climb

A local firefighter is helping to clear the air by organizing the BC Lung Association's 8th Annual Climb the Wall Stair Climb for Clean Air in Vancouver on Feb. 22.

Sean Ward, 31, lives in Squamish but works for Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. This will be his fourth year encouraging firefighters and local residents to tackle 739 steps, 48 storeys, at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel.

Perhaps more seasoned for this type of workout, the firefighters are actually at a disadvantage because they have to grind their way to the top fully geared up, said Ward.

"Anybody running from the public is just wearing shorts and t-shirts but we have to get dressed up in all our gear so we're probably wearing about 100 extra pounds," he said. "And we're on air so we're breathing air bottles as well so that makes it a bit more restrictive as far as getting as much oxygen as your lungs need."

Nearly 100 of the 500 participants are firefighters. Since Ward is in charge of the logistics - recruiting volunteers, organizing equipment - he doesn't have to hit the stairs.

"That's one of the benefits to being the organizer," he said with a laugh. "But it takes months of planning. It's a worthwhile event and we've been getting more and more involved as the years go on."

The Vancouver Firefighters' Union Local 18 contributes $5,000 and registrants gather pledges, with all proceeds going to lung health and air quality research, programs and initiatives. Participants' friends and family are on scene cheering on the huff and puffers, which makes a very lively event, he said.

Ward, who has worked as a firefighter in Vancouver for seven years, moved to Squamish from North Vancouver three years ago because he craves the outdoor lifestyle. It's worth the commute, he said.

Firefighters deal with lung problems and debilitating air quality on a regular basis. The BC Lung Association is an important organization to support because it goes to support the very people the fire department aids, said Ward.

"From the standpoint of being a first responder and being involved with the fire department, we basically deal with people who suffer from lung diseases on a daily basis because the majority of our medical calls are for people that have shortness of breath," he said.

"From our perspective just in getting involved in raising public awareness as to what they can be doing to reduce the risk is beneficial to us. We're also candidates for developing lung diseases as well because we're constantly in hazardous environments."

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