For a decade now, Missoula firefighters have been the "ones to beat" at the annual Seattle Stairclimb, a fundraiser which has generated millions of dollars for the fight against leukemia and lymphoma.

But as the years pass, keeping that dominance is a challenge.

However, when one of your rookie climbers is 6 foot 5, it might not be as hard to stay on top.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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Sunday, a dozen members of this year's team will don their full turnouts, the same gear they would wear into a fire, and sprint to the top of the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle. 69-floors and 1,356 steps later they'll emerge in the Sky View Observatory, completely spent but also triumphant.

Veteran Andy Drobeck, who still holds the record in an astonishing 10-minutes, 39-seconds, and was fastest overall for half-a-dozen years, says it primarily takes consistency to win.

Dennis Bragg photo
Andy Drobeck; Dennis Bragg photo
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"I've learned that there's no one recipe that can help you succeed over there," Drobeck told me after a short training stint this week up the stairs at Jesse Hall on the University of Montana campus. "There's been years where I've done a lot of stairs, years where I've been running, more biking it's always the same general time. And it gives me the confidence to know that if I'm just active I can have a good time over there and not have to go crazy doing some stair climb-specific training."

Among the rookie climbers who've been training this year is Quinlan Rowe, whose father Ben was a key member of the team before retiring from MFD last year. He looked strong Monday and even took to the stair machine that night during a fundraiser at Cranky Sam's downtown.

Quinlan Rowe; Dennis Bragg photo
Quinlan Rowe; Dennis Bragg photo
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"It's gonna help me get to where I need to be to compete. And yeah, just this whole race and stuff and the fire departments been kind of part of my family," Rowe told me after catching his breath. "Definitely excited and a little bit nervous. Gotta beat the old man this year, so we'll see."

MFD raises about $10,000 each year. But both Drobeck and Rowe say the climbing routine actually helps them be better prepared to do their jobs.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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"I know firefighters are naturally competitive, which is huge," Rowe explains. "So competition helps me train harder so that way I can be a better firefighter for my community." 

I note that climbing stairs could be more important as the Garden City sprouts more high-rise buildings.

"Yeah, that's right," Drobeck agrees with a smile. "Every building that goes up is bigger and bigger."

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