DEERFIELD TWP. — By climbing 71 flights of stairs in Detroit’s Marriott Renaissance Center wearing full firefighter gear, Tom Mitchell, Ryan Tedesco, Paul Will and Mitchell McMurray hope to win an uphill battle.
Someday, they hope, many others will, too.
“All of us have been touched in some way, shape or form by somebody with some sort of lung condition,” said Will, 35, one of four firefighters with Deerfield Township Fire & Rescue, in northern Lapeer County, who plans to ascend the stairs Feb. 26 to raise money for the American Lung Association in the “Fight for Air” Climb.
“There’s Ryan’s mother, Tom has a father and father-in-law, and my wife’s uncle has pulmonary fibrosis,” Will said. “All of us have been touched in some way, shape or form, and we want to raise the funds to make a change and try and find cures for some of this stuff.”
Ryan Tedesco, 44, said his mother, the late Bev Tedesco, died due to lung cancer in 2010.
“She was a smoker, but part of the goal of the American Lung Association, too, is to help people to stop smoking,” Tedesco said. “As firefighters, we always say prevention is the key. I also had a cousin who died of cystic fibrosis.”
Tom Mitchell said his father, former firefighter Bob Mitchell of Farmington, has emphysema. Tom Mitchell said his father-in-law, Dave Barrios of Cass City, also has emphysema.
Those wanting to help the firefighters raise money may visit action.lung.org and search under “Featured Events.” Follow the “Search for a Team” link and type in “Deerfield Fire” to make donations to the Deerfield Township firefighters’ fundraising effort.
While the four firefighters have devoted themselves to helping the American Lung Association, they’ve also committed to conquering a physical challenge. They said the tallest building in Deerfield Township, population 5,600, is the township fire hall where they practice climbing up three flights of stairs.
“It’s a huge physical undertaking for us to climb 71 flights of stairs,” said Will, service manager at Tri-County Equipment in Caro.
“It’s not every day that you do that,” Will said. “We climb three or four flights of stairs in a fire. Now we’re going to go climb 71 flights. It’s a big undertaking for us.”
Each firefighter’s gear – including the self-contained breathing apparatus tank on his back – weighs a total of about 55 pounds.
“It makes it really difficult, actually,” said Mitchell, 49, son-in-law of Dave and Nancy Barrios of Cass City.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my gear, but I’ve never climbed 700 feet,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, Tedesco, Will and McMurray – four of 28 men belonging to Deerfield Township Fire & Rescue – said they’re not the only department members focusing on fitness.
“We’ve been losing weight as a department for the last year and a half or so, when we’ve been working very hard as a group – all of the members of the department – to try to get in the best shape that we possibly can,” Will said.
“Since we’ve signed up for this event, we’ve geared our workouts toward climbing for this event.”
Mitchell, construction manager at Servpro of Lapeer, said “50 percent of the firefighter fatalities are from heart attacks.”
“We always said that fighting a fire for five minutes is like working out for an hour,” Mitchell said. “That’s how much adrenalin and strength and everything else you need. If you’re not in shape, it’s not the game to play.”
Firefighters with dozens of departments plan to take part in the “Fight for Air” Climb.
“We go to the North Branch High School (fitness center), we use stair climbers, and we do a lot of cardio, and a lot of running,” Will said. “We work out a lot here (at the township fire hall), as well.”
Samantha Tedesco, 18, Ryan Tedesco’s daughter, said she worried after her father told her he was planning to ascend 71 flights of stairs in full firefighting gear.
“I’ve been working out with him, though, and his work ethic is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and once he sets his mind on something, he won’t give up – he’ll finish,” Samantha Tedesco said of her dad, a quality technician at SKF near Armada.
“I’ve always been extremely proud of him, but just to see him do this for a good cause makes me even more proud to be his daughter,” Samantha Tedesco said.
The firefighters said they’ll climb the stairs as a team.
“There is absolutely zero worry,” Will said. “We are going to climb to the top. We are 100 percent committed and there is no room for error – and we will not fail.”
Will said the goal isn’t for one firefighter to try to outdo another on the climb, but to unite to battle lung problems and serve Deerfield Township residents.
“We’re not tough guys by any means,” Will said. “We’re just like everybody else, but we do have to live up to a standard as a firefighter, and we have to live up to a standard to protect our community.
“Protecting our community is also being fit.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org