Missoula’s record-breaking firefighters power past pandemic


MISSOULA — We don’t have any skyscrapers in Missoula. But we do have a mountain. And Missoula firefighters put it to good use today.

Over the years we’ve shown you how Missoula Fire’s Stairclimb Team has become the best in the Northwest at the annual Seattle fundraiser, with Andy Drobeck finishing first in the timed climb multiple years, and inspiring his teammates to top performances. Until the pandemic.

“If it would have been a week earlier in 2020 we would have been able to do it. So it was bad timing,” says Drobeck. “And the I think people were like ‘there’s no way ’21 will get canceled’. And then they canceled ’21.”

The firefighters have continued to raise funds to fight cancer. But training is important too. Which is why we were at the M trailhead Friday morning. Veterans, new recruits and families too.

“Andrew Pace put this together,” Missoula firefighter recruit Libby Hopper explains to me. “They canceled the stairclimb again this year which is unfortunate because it’s such a huge fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. So, we’re adaptable. We’ve figured it out. And so this morning instead of hiking up 69-stories in Seattle we’re hiking to above the M.”

Drobeck wants to keep the team’s momentum.

“It does make me a little nervous for the event next year, that it has the same flair, especially for our department. But the amount of people we have here today doing it just shows there’s still interest here. So I think it will be good, at least on our end of it.”

And for the new recruits today was all about learning what it is really like to be a Missoula firefighter.

“But that’s the thing. We’re the new recruits so hopefully we do keep up. Next week could be a long week if we don’t,” laughs Hooper.

“We need new people coming in because we get older, and people retire,” Drobeck observes. “So to have those guys here, maybe it will spark something with them. And they’ll be interested in doing it in the future.”

I ask if anyone has hit him up for tips today.

“No, nobody’s ask for any tips. I don’t have any tips to give hiking up Sentinel because that’s not normally something we do,” Drobeck says with a smile.

But one thing the new recruits already know, is the importance of dedication and community service.

“We’re community minded,” Hooper says. “We want to give back to the community we work in. We want to help. It’s in our nature. So being able to do this, just being out and hiking the iconic M, which everybody in Missoula sees, it’s kind of a really cool way to do it.”

And how famous are Missoula’s firefighters? Well before they started up, a visitor from Seattle greeted them with a big smile, saying he knew all about their performances at the annual Firefighter Stairclimb.

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