The group recently climbed the 28-floor stairwell at Providence’s One Financial Plaza to test their training while raising money for the American Lung Association.
The climb was a success on both counts. Led by team captain Tony Ward, the entire team made it to the top together at a fast pace and they raised $1,630 for the American Lung Association, more than triple the $500 goal they had set.
Simply climbing so many floors is challenge enough, but the Westport firefighters did it in full turnout gear along with air packs — around 50 pounds worth of clothing and equipment.
“Around the 17th floor is where it (fatigue) really kicks in,” said team member Rob Porawski Sr., who competed along with his son Rob Porawski Jr., also a Westport firefighter.
That might be partly explained by the fact that the place they regularly train, the Ship’s Watch apartments in Fall River, is an 18-floor climb.
Stair climbing is a routine part of department training but leading up to this event team members went to Ship’s Watch once or twice a week during the winter.
“You get used to a certain number of floors and when you get beyond that it really hits the lungs and legs,” Mr. Porawksi said. Back at the station between climbs, firefighters partake in the Instanity Workout — an exhausting session led by a televised trainer.
Although this was first and foremost a fund raiser, such things always become part-competition. Fire departments from around the region took part and prizes were handed out in various categories — fastest team, fastest individual …
Participants start in 30 second intervals and the Westport team managed to finish as a group. Team scores are calculated on the average of the five fastest individuals and Westport’s crew achieved a time of 7 minutes, 30 seconds — about the middle of the pack for firefighting teams. The fastest Westport time was put in by Andrew Raymond who finished in 6 minutes 15 seconds. Others in the top five were Justin Roulin, Tony Ward, Robert Porawski Jr. and Sean Connolly. The other team members, finishing close behind, were Matthew Farias, Phil Goncalves, Allen Manley and Robert Porawski Sr.
It’s a physical challenge but mental too, Mr. Porawski Sr. said. “Most of us have a strategy that we try to follow,” the most important part of which is, “Whatever you do, don’t go out too fast.”
Practice has also taught them to assist tired legs by using arm power to help pull themselves along with the railings.
And they develop a pace — his is to skip stairway steps for the first ten floors, then ease back to single steps for the next ten flights “and go all out with whatever you have left for the last eight.”
“By then you’re really sucking wind” and drenched with sweat.
Along the way they grab inspiration where they can.
Pictures of emphysema patients are posted along the way with captions like, “You climb for me.”
“It sounds cliche but that keeps you going,” Mr. Porawski said. And cheerleaders stationed at higher floors helped push them through the last of the 436 steps to the top.
There is a practical purpose to it all.
While Westport is not a town of high-rise buildings — the tallest is the Hampton Inn, about four floors — there are a number of tall buildings in nearby Fall River where the department might be called to assist,
And in Westport, there are lots of houses set far back from the main road to which rescuers might have to hike in. That happened during the recent blizzards — slogging through heavy snow in full gear can be every bit as exhausting as scaling stairways.
And then, Mr. Porawski said, there is the possibility of ladder climbs or carrying a victim to safety.
And in an actual emergency there might be even more weight to carry — hose sections, nozzles, axes and more.
“And it’s more than just getting there — you have to have enough left in the tank to do your job effectively when you arrive,” Mr. Porawsaki said.
“It comes down to core endurance — it all starts in the legs.”
He said the department could really use a piece of stair climb equipment of the sort found in gyms but there is nothing in the budget for that.
Although this climb is done, the firefighters’ continue their staircase training and are looking into the possibility of entering other events.
Worcester has a tough stair climb that they may enter and they are thinking about signing up for a Tough Mudder event in New Hampshire in June.
The Lung Association climb is a worthy cause and they were proud to take part, Mr. Poraski added.
“We climb for those who cannot breathe on their own and for our children who deserve to breathe clean and healthy air.”