For Bellevue firefighters, cancer fundraising hits close to home

Responders are fourth on team fundraising chart.

You may be wondering why Bellevue firefighters were at the downtown QFC during Superbowl (Feb. 3) weekend. Or why they had a stair climber set up in Nordstroms.

The Bellevue Fire Department’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising efforts have happened for years. Since the Firefighter Stair Climb’s inception in 1991, when Shoreline Firefighter David Engler climbed the civilian event in full bunker gear, thousands have been raised by Bellevue first responders.

But before now, they weren’t able to actively solicit contributions in the community, said Bellevue firefighter Mike Williams. They were granted permission from fire Chief Jerome “Jay” Hagen and have since been “kind of shaking the trees.”

The new practice led to partnerships with OFC and Nordstroms.

At QFC, the department raised $4,800.

During their one-day stint on Feb. 16 at Nordstroms, they brought in $6,000.

“It’s awesome,” Williams said. “The Bellevue community, the people are very giving.”

He added that for first-time events, hosted by business partners, they “knocked it out of the ballpark.”

Before, local firefighters had to gather individual donations from friends and family, in an attempt to raise the minimum $300 donation needed to partake in the stair climb.

“There was a lot of writing our own checks,” Williams said. “We really weren’t able to get the donations we should have for the community and now we are.”

So far the team, labeled “Bellevue Fire,” has raised $25,700. That puts them at the fourth spot on the firefighter fundraising charts. It all leads to the March 10 event in which 22 Bellevue responders (including Chief Hagen) will make the climb.

For team captain Williams, he climbs for personal reasons. Cancer especially impacts firefighters. It surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the International Association of Firefighters. Williams has known members diagnosed with cancer in his department, and others in other departments.

“Some of them have made it. Some of them have not,” he said.

Bellevue firefighter Eric Rickert first became involved with fundraising for the LLS in 2013. It was two years later when he got his cancer diagnosis.

Symptoms began the day after the 2015 LLS Firefighter Stair Climb. First was the abdominal pain. When it lasted more than a week, he paid a visit to his doctor. It took time before they narrowed down his affliction — Mantle cell lymphoma — one of several subtypes of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some lymphomas are curable. Others, like Mantle cell, are only treatable.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Rickert said of his diagnosis. “I wasn’t expecting anything like that. I was fairly young, fairly fit and had two young kids in middle school and high school.” He also thought of friends who went through their own cancer battles and treatments.

For Rickert, following his diagnosis, the event took on new meaning.

“Yes, it definitely makes it more personal,” he said. “It makes it a little easier to raise money.”

His connection with the LLS is more involved and he plans to continue his annual climb every year, for “as long as I can.”

Through his stage-four cancer diagnosis, treatment and a bone marrow transplant, he has yet to miss a stair climb.

“I got slower though,” Rickert laughed.

For him the stair climb acts as a social event and a way to do something good. Other people are typically faster when traveling up the 788 feet and 1,356 steps of the Seattle Columbia Center, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi, according to the stair climb website.

He surely would have continued without the diagnosis. But with it comes a responsibility to participate, he said. “To participate if I can, doing good things, helping patients and contributing to some amount of medical research to help people who have cancers like mine.”

During the Nordstrom event, firefighters were approached by a 9-year-old girl battling Leukemia. For a present firefighter who may have been on the fence about this being their cause, their mind was swayed.

“The firefighter was always kind of a supporter of the event, but after this he’s going to be a lot more involved,” Williams said. “You can’t see something like that and let it go.”

To donate, go online to https://bit.ly/2DzCq6U.

Photo courtesy of Mike Williams. 
                                Firefighters raising money for LLS.

Photo courtesy of Mike Williams. Firefighters raising money for LLS.

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