There are 1,555 firefighters from around the world who competed in this year's Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle. What do three of the top four have in common? They're from Missoula.
"We're looking at each other and saying, ‘What are they feeding those boys?' " said Mike McQuaid, a Stairclimb spokesman.
And what are they feeding those ladies? First things first, though.
Missoula Rural Fire District's Kory Burgess captured first place, as he did last year, when he set a record for the fastest pace to the 73rd floor of Seattle's tallest building, the Columbia Center. Andy Drobeck, a Missoula City Fire Department firefighter, captured second place, and Missoula Rural Fire's Doug Swain locked in fourth.
Third place went to Paul Kimball of the Spokane Valley (Wash.) Fire Department.
"The main thing about the climb is just the fact it's a great fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society," Burgess said.
He said Missoula Rural pulled in more than $10,000 this year. City firefighter Mike Thurlow, Stairclimb team captain, said City Fire has raised at least $5,000 but is still tallying money.
It isn't too late to donate, either. Since the event started in 1982, it has earned some $2.7 million for the health agency focused on blood cancers. To contribute, click on the "donate now" button at www.firefighterstairclimb.org; donors may offer money on behalf of a team or participant.
Drobeck, who was just pulling into Frenchtown late Monday afternoon, said his legs weren't sore at all. His hands were, though, maybe from grabbing the stair rails.
A Missoula firefighter for two and a half years, Drobeck hopes to head back again and vie for the top spot until Burgess doesn't attend or he beats out his peer.
"If I'm going to get beat by someone, it's nice to get beat by someone in the same town," said Drobeck, 28.
He said Garden City firefighters have earned themselves an enviable reputation in Seattle.
"Are you one of those crazy Missoula guys?" people ask him.
As for the pre-climb menu, Burgess, the champion, said he doesn't eat anything all that special. He may have had some kind of pasta the evening before. Thurlow, who has raced in the past, figures it isn't about food at all.
"I think it's good ol' Montana air, or climbing the M," Thurlow said. "It might just be the healthy lifestyles around here."
Among 129 teams this year, Missoula Rural came in No. 1 and Missoula City got ninth place. Thurlow said for a place that doesn't have many highrises, Missoulians do well against those who do come from cities with tall buildings.
Firefighters here run up the trail to the M and climb the stairs in Aber Hall to train. They compete against firefighters from the U.S., Canada, Germany and New Zealand, according to a news release.
Burgess, 28, has been a firefighter for five years, all with Missoula Rural. He climbed the 1,311 steps this year in 11:01.35. Last year, he logged in 5.6 seconds faster than his time this year for an all-time Stairclimb record. He holds the top two fastest times.
The firefighters wear 50 pounds of gear including breathing apparatus; they climb 788 feet in vertical elevation, or 69 stories; and they do so in the 57th tallest building in the world and the tallest by stories on the West Coast, according to the Stairclimb news release.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the world's largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer, according to the news release. Some 912,938 Americans live with leukemia, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and myelodysplastic syndromes.
Drobeck said one of his colleagues' cousins had been in remission, but the cancer started up again. The team refocused on the fundraising this year.
"That is the whole reason that we go over there," he said.