East Olympia firefighters to race for fallen comrade

Wearing 70 pounds of firefighting equipment, DJ Brimer will trudge up 1,311 steps in Seattle's Columbia Tower today for the annual firefighters' tower climb, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Brimer and three other firefighters from East Olympia Fire District 6 will be doing the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in memory of Matt Leppell, a former volunteer firefighter at the East Olympia station who died of leukemia and Crohn’s disease in September at 24.

“Matt didn’t get to choose this. This chose him,” Brimer said. “This is one way for us to do something. It’s a way of bringing attention to cancer and to raise money to fight it.”

Last year, the stairclimb raised $780,000, organizers say. There will be 1,500 firefighters entered from across the United States, from England, New Zealand and Canada. The fastest participants will climb the 69 stories in less than 10 minutes.

It’s the third time Brimer has done the exhausting climb in the second-tallest building west of the Mississippi River (U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles is the tallest).

“You might feel like you’re going to pass out when you get to the top of the tower,” Brimer said. “But what we’re doing is minor in comparison to what these patients are going through.”

Brimer knows that other than a little soreness Monday, he’ll get better.

Leppell’s mother, Mona, asked Brimer if his station would do the climb to honor her son.

Brimer said Matt Leppell was an outgoing, friendly young man who grew up playing sports in University Place.

“Matt had a great sense of humor,” Brimer said. “He had lots of friends and was a guy people would go to. From the sounds of it, he had the foundations to be a good firefighter.”

The climb begins at 9 a.m. today with the repeat and fastest climbers going first. Joining Brimer from his fire department are James Osberg, Sang Pion and Karen Rollman.

Teams from the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and McClain fire departments also will be competing.

“By doing this, we don’t feel as powerless,” Brimer said. “It’s a way of help- ing.”

To make donations, go to www.llswa.org.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 gwood@theolympian.com