STAIRS TEAM: The team competing in this year’s Sky Tower Stair Challenge are, back row: Steve Hanlen, Anaru Freeman, Seth Hands, Broc Hands, Cole Hands and Geoff Brown. Front row: Dallas Hands, Ethan Hands and Ezra Brabant-Weitkamp.

NINE Eastern Bay firefighters are preparing for a hot and gruelling challenge as participants in next month’s 2019 Firefighters Sky Tower Stair Challenge, and they’re hoping the Eastern Bay community will support them.

The challenge, held annually in Auckland as a fundraiser for Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand, takes place on May 18. Whakatane Volunteer Fire Brigade senior fireman Dallas Hands says training for the team is well under way.

“It’s a tough event and it’s very hot,” says Dallas. Drawing on his experience of having completed the challenge before, he says like other extreme physical challenges, it’s a mental game as much as anything else. “You have to be fit and ready for it, of course, but you have to have your head in the right place.”

He says many entrants in the challenge don’t complete it. “A lot of it comes down to what happens on the day. You can train for months and be unwell or injured. Or you can be really well prepared physically, but not go into it with the right mindset.”

It’s advice he’ll be giving to his team members entering for the first time – among them, Ethan, Seth, and Cole Hands, this three sons, and his nephew, Broc – the nine-strong team comprising a total of five Hands family members. “The young ones are fit. You think they’re just going to nail it, but they need to have the right mindset. They will definitely be challenged.”

The Eastern Bay team is made up of firefighters from Whakatane, Ohope, and Taneatua fire stations, with a couple of other firefighters entering as individuals. “It’s often quite competitive between the stations,” Dallas laughs. “We usually enter separately and each station tends to want to get better times than the others. But it’s great to come together this time and enter as a team.”

The Firefighters Sky Tower Stair Challenge fundraiser has been held annually since its inception in 2005, with the amount raised increasing every year. The event now consistently raises over $1 million each time. Last year 950 entrants took on the challenge and 1000 are registered in the upcoming event.

With 51 flights of stairs – 1103 individual steps – firefighters undertake the challenge of making it to the top, and back down, as fast as they can, and all while wearing 25 kilograms of firefighter “kit”. At 328 metres, the Sky Tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.

“Sometimes people use the event as a personal fitness challenge, but its primary role is as a fundraiser for Leukemia & Blood Cancer New Zealand,” Dallas says. “We’re committed to raising as much as we can for them.”

He says with each team member undertaking their own fundraising and sponsorship, the team is also collectively hosting a one-off community event on Saturday, April 27 that they’re counting on the public to support.

Sky Tower Challenge Show & Shine will be held at Mataatua Reserve in Whakatane from 10am until 2pm with an open invitation to all car and bike enthusiasts to come and show off their vehicles – for a cost of $10 entry. Prizes are available for both vehicle owners and the public. “It’ll be a fun event for the whole family with sausage sizzles, fire truck rides, people’s choice and spot prizes.” Entry will be by gold coin donation.

Anyone wishing to enter a vehicle is advised to register their interest at Glassman & Locksmiths on Commerce Street in Whakatane, or to email admin@glassman.net.nz.

To support the team’s effort by donating to Leukaemia & Blood Cancer, enter firefightersclimb.org.nz and click on “find a firefighter” to sponsor an individual firefighter, or on “team search” and enter “Whakatane Volunteer Fire Brigade” to sponsor the team.

Sponsorship or donations can also be made directly at Glassman in Commerce Street.

The Firefighters Sky Tower Stairs Challenge in Auckland attracts firefighters from all around the world, typically drawing entries from Australia, and as far afield as the United States, Germany and Chile.

By Lorraine Wilson