Ocean City firefighters will 'Fight for Air' in Philadelphia

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OCEAN CITY — For five Ocean City firefighters and six civilian teammates, it will be quite a challenge on March 23, as they climb to the top of a Philadelphia high rise building; 50 flights of stairs, 1,088 steps to the top of 3 Logan Square.

The firefighters are going to do it twice, and they will do it in full firefighter gear, including boots, jackets and helmets. They’re participating in the 2013 Fight for Air Philadelphia to raise funds for the American Lung Association, and they would like some help from the community.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Ocean City Fire Capt. Steve Costantino. “This has become one of our regular annual charity events and it’s always a lot of fun. It’s a big challenge, but it’s important to us to raise the funding, so we make a big push for it. We look forward to doing this every year.”

In addition to Costantino, firefighters Mike Reganato, Ryan Kampmeyer, Rick Bickmore, Dan Shallawitz and Rob Sharpe are participating, as well as civilians Joel Frankel, Michelle Mairone, Amy Piccinino, Tobi Care, Bethanny Higbee and Michelle Dejesse.

The firefighters are also participating in a First Responders Challenge immediately following the regular Fight for Air event.

Competing against first responders from around the region, the Ocean City competitors hope to come home with the top prize, the award given to the team with the fastest cumulative time. Dubbed the “Century Climb,” or 100 flights and nearly 2,200 steps, Costantino said it’s a real test of endurance.

“It helps keep us in shape,” he said. “It’s a real test of our skills, it keeps us sharp.”

The firefighters participate in numerous charity events throughout the year, including for cystic fibrosis. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, they have raised funding to help numerous local organizations.

“We think the American Lung Association is a really good cause,” Costantino said.

Stair climbing events are becoming very popular for fundraisers in cities where high rises are common, he said. 

“It’s like a 5K race, but instead of running on the street you are climbing stairs,” he said. “In most cities, it’s hard to race on the streets, but there are a lot of buildings that you can climb.

“Fifty flights of steps, that’s about five times higher than any building in Ocean City,” he said. “It’s hard to practice for, but it’s a real unique competition for us and it’s really neat to try something different.”

Costantino said his firefighters are, for the most part, in good physical condition.

“We’re all pretty active. We live at the shore, so we’re out running and riding bikes. Most of us like to kayak and go windsurfing or surfing when we’re not working. Most of us are watermen; we’re pretty fit, so this race is a good fit for us,” he said.

Stair challenges are not new to Costantino; he’s a veteran of events at the Empire State Building in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago. He said he had so much fun that he encouraged others to try one with him.

“We run five guys and they take our top four best times,” he said, adding that the challenge is scored similar to a cross country race.

“It’s not long like a cross country race, it’s not like distance running,” he said. “It’s not a hard race, it’s not exhausting like an endurance event. It’s fast and it’s over pretty quickly. Once you get started it’s over, it’s just real demanding while your doing it.”

Racers are timed through chips placed in their shoes. As they step over the starting line at the bottom, the chip records the start. When they break the threshold at the top, the race is over.

“It’s not subjective, there are no discrepancies, no issues,” he said. “The time is what it is. The staggered start really helps. You can pass other people on the steps. You are in a sense racing against yourself.”

The American Lung Association was founded in 1904 as the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis. America’s oldest voluntary health organization, the organization played a critical role in a 50-year battle against the disease by developing and funding increasingly effective weapons to prevent, detect and treat it. By 1954, TB was largely controlled in the United States. 

Now in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.

With the support of the public, the American Lung Association is “fighting for air” through research, education and advocacy.

The average adult, Costantino noted, takes 15 to 20 breaths a minute – over 20,000 breaths a day. In the lungs, the oxygen from each breath is transferred to the bloodstream and sent to all the body’s cells as life-sustaining fuel. Keeping your lungs healthy is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle, but for some, the process is impeded by lung disease, he said.

“Almost everybody knows someone affected by lung disease or some breathing ailment,” Costantino said.

“We’re really happy to be able to do something to help,” he said, adding that the firefighters hope that those up to the challenge might decide to join them, or make a small donation.

Competitors don’t have to race; they can walk the steps at their own pace.

“It’s a lot of fun, we’d love to have a big group, the more the merrier,” he said.

Those who would like to join the team or make a donation can see www.lunginfo.org/phillyclimb.

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