Stefan Vezina (left), Clay MacDonald (center), and Jamie Molnar (right) get their game faces on as they prepare for the upcoming firefighter challenges in June. – Photo courtesy of Jamie Molnar

Three members of the Swan Hills Fire Department (SHFD) will be competing in two major firefighter challenges next month.

Stefan Vezina and Jamie Molnar will travel to Calgary on the second weekend in June to compete in the 10th annual Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge on June 9. This challenge is dedicated to supporting Wellspring Alberta (WA) in its efforts to raise funds and awareness for firefighters and all citizens living with cancer. Proceeds from this event will assist WA in offering free programs and services to those living with cancer, including firefighters, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Firefighters Assistance Charitable Society.

Although firefighting is widely recognized as a hazardous profession, many are unaware that cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters. Chronic exposure to heat, by-products of fires, and toxic smoke from burning materials such as plastics and chemicals significantly increases firefighters’ risk of developing certain types of cancer compared to the general population. There are 16 types of cancer recognized as presumptive occupational hazards associated with firefighting.

The upcoming Stairclimb Challenge will take place at Brookfield Place, Calgary’s tallest tower, boasting 57 stories and 1,370 steps, making it the highest stairclimb challenge in Canada. In past years, participants completed the climb wearing full firefighter gear, including Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). However, due to health concerns related to firefighter Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), WA has modified the requirements. Participants will now wear their boots, helmet, SCBA, and workout clothes of their choice, excluding the turnout jacket and pants, in response to recent research indicating the presence of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in firefighter gear, substances potentially linked to cancer.

This year’s event will be Vezina’s first time taking on the Stairclimb Challenge and Molnar’s fourth time around.

One week later, Vezina and Molnar will be joined by Clayton MacDonald as they travel back to Calgary to compete in the Alberta and Yukon Regional FireFit Championships at Spruce Meadows on June 15 – 16.

The FireFit Championships is a gruelling competition consisting of a series of firefighting tasks typically performed in emergency scenarios. Featuring individual and team events across various categories, participants compete to secure a spot in the National Championships. The SHFD team members will take part in individual challenges and as a team in the relay race.

Competitors in the individual events perform a series of tasks in full firefighter gear, wearing and breathing from an SCBA pack. The tasks include:

  1. Stair Climb: Competitors must carry a Hi-Rise Pack (a 4′ bundle of 4″ hose weighing 42 lb) to the top floor of the tower (40 ft, six flights, 60 steps) and place it entirely in or on a box on the deck of the tower. Steps can be taken one at a time or in multiples.
  2. Hose Hoist: Competitors must haul a 45 lb “Donut Roll” of LDH (Large Diameter Hose) to the top of the tower with a 5/8″ kern-mantle rope, then lift and place it in or on the box.
  3. Descending The Tower: Competitors must touch every stair and use the handrails.
  4. Forcible Entry: Competitors use a 9 lb Trusty Cook shot mallet on a force machine to move the beam a set distance.
  5. Run: Competitors run or walk as fast as they can around a series of fire hydrants for a distance of 140′.
  6. Hose Advance: Competitors shoulder a 1 3/4″ fully charged hose line and drag it 75′ before opening the nozzle and hitting a target with the stream of water. They then shut the nozzle and place it on the ground.
  7. Victim Rescue: Competitors must drag a 175 lb mannequin backwards for a distance of 100′.

For the relay events, 3 – 5 person teams complete the seven tasks outlined above in full firefighter gear while wearing (but not breathing from) an SCBA pack. All team members must complete one or more of the seven listed tasks. A flashlight is used as a baton for this relay, with active team members passing the flashlight to the member who is to perform the next task.

Molnar began his training regimen in February, including indoor and outdoor (when the weather allowed) cycling, weightlifting, aerobic and anaerobic training, and climbing stairs at the fire hall. If he can find the time and materials, he would like to put together a mock FireFit course to train on.

In speaking about competing in these physically demanding events, Molnar explained, “It shows that we are committed to our health and our safety, and when we come to a fire, this is what you’re getting.”

When asked how people in the Swan Hills community could best support our local SHFD competitors, Molnar said, “Words of encouragement and donating to these great causes, I guess, would be the best way.”

Those who would like to support our SHFD members can do so through the Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge website ( by clicking the “Donate” button at the top of the screen. Donations can be made to individual participants, teams, or directly to the cause.