Dozens of firefighters, each wearing 40 pounds of gear, gathered to climb 52 flights of stairs at 191 Peachtree Tower in Atlanta Saturday.
Nine minutes and 39 seconds after the start, Dalton Fire Department Engineer Douglas Kerns was the first to the top. The veteran firefighter placed first among about 55 of his flame-quenching peers in the American Lung Association’s seventh annual Fight for Air Climb.
Fight for Air events are held all over the country, each featuring a vertical climb in which competitors race up several flights of stairs. The Atlanta event had firefighters and about 250 civilian participants climb about 1,200 steps. It raised about $80,000, said state director June Deen.
Kerns is believed to be the only local firefighter to participate in the event. He won first place in the climb’s inaugural year and has had several high placings since then. This is his second time taking top prize. He took home a trophy for this year’s victory.
Kerns said he prepared specifically for the climb for about eight weeks by going up and down Mount Sinai two or three times for each workout session with a friend. They also worked out on the stairs at the Dalton High School track, he said, plus he rides a bicycle about 200 miles a week. Events like this one, he said, push him to be a better person and a better firefighter.
“You have to be prepared for anything, so being in shape really helps us do our job better, and the community and the citizens depend on that,” he said. “Our department is really big on us being fit, and they support us a lot by getting us weight equipment and things like that and supporting us going to different events such as the climb.”
Deen said Kerns’ time was especially impressive because the 37-year-old beat out firefighters several years younger and bested the fast times of many civilians who weren’t wearing full gear.
“The Dalton Fire Department has got pretty good folks if they’re keeping up with Doug,” Deen said. “He’s in good shape.”
The fastest civilian was a 26-year-old who won in 6 minutes, 44 seconds. The slowest firefighter took about 22 minutes.
Gwinnett County’s fire department received first place awards for the team event, fundraising and most participants. The top female firefighter, Rebekah McInnes, is also from Gwinnett. Gwinnett team captain John McGriff, a fire lieutenant, said the team has been the fastest firefighter team since 2007. Making the trip in full gear, he said, gets very hot.