Whittlesea Fire Brigade members, from left, Ryan Taylor, Branndon Kenworthy, Steph Smith, Brandon Smith, Danny Cobb and Lauren Caffyn are taking on the Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb. ​

By Pam Kiriakidis

Nine volunteers from Whittlesea Country Fire Authority, CFA, will climb to raise money and awareness for mental health in the ninth annual Melbourne Firefighters Stair Climb on September 10.

The 000Foundation event at Crown Metropol Hotel involves more than 600 firefighters and other emergency service personnel climbing 28 floors with full firefighting protective clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus, weighing 25 kilograms.

The Whittlesea CFA team includes Steph Smith, Lauren Caffyn, Danny Cobb, Brandon Smith, Jess Loschiavo, Branndon Kenworthy, Sam Devenish, Ryan Taylor and Adrian Bryant.

In preparation for the climb, Whittlesea fire brigade members ran courses to increase stability and strength.

The volunteers trained in various formats two or three times a week, including from Whittlesea Fire Station to Eastern Hill, and over the Wandong rail overpass.

Fifth Lieutenant Danny Cobb, who take cares of occupational, health and safety at the brigade, is participating in the event for the first time.

“It’s just another mental challenge to put myself in and through to take on the stair climb and give it a go and see how quickly I can do it, so it’s really a personal challenge for me, which the other benefit is raising money for the good causes,” he said.

Prior to the annual climb, volunteers and the public donate to Lifeline Australia, Fortem and the 000Foundation – three major services that focus on mental health, suicide, and post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

Whittlesea Fire Brigade – Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb

The event was altered during to the pandemic with virtual climbs replacing the climb in Melbourne’s CBD, encouraging volunteers and the public to find stairs at home or close by to dedicate each step to a life lost to suicide in Australia.

A few members from Whittlesea CFA contributed to the virtual climb in recent years.

Mr Cobb said whether a volunteer engaged in the virtual or physical climb, both were about being involved.

He said once he stepped over the finish line, he expected to feel relief with the reminder his efforts were contributing to his team and service.

“It will be a great feeling personally, knowing that I have raised the amount of money I’ve raised that is going to a good cause,” he said.

Mr Cobb said the relationships between volunteers lacked throughout COVID, therefore he hoped the challenge strengthened the team at Whittlesea brigade.

“We’re gonna achieve the stair climb, come the fire season you know we are good to go, the team bonds there and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Mr Cobb said the stair climb was an extension of the CFA, as the support system was one that could lift volunteers.

“The challenges what our volunteers can face can be horrendous, given the job, the nature of what it is,” he said.

“CFA itself as a body is very good at supporting members when people need that extra help, they have their own internal peer support network which is fantastic.”

Ms Smith said the decision to commit herself to the cause for the first time was motivated by her friends and family who have been impacted by mental health issues.

“Mental health issues have become a big part of the world we live in and I want to help take it on by raising awareness and do whatever I can,” she said.

“Stepping up for causes like this is a big part of what we do as volunteers.

“We look after each other at the brigade when someone might be feeling down or struggling with their mental health at times.

“It’s great to be doing this as a team, which allows us to support each other through the training and remind one another why we’re doing it in the first place.”

Ms Caffyn, who has volunteered with Whittlesea Fire Brigade for a decade, said between being a full-time prison officer and a firefighter with the brigade, she had been exposed to many incidents that could take a toll on mental health.

“This event will raise money for mental health and help a lot of people struggling with these issues,” she said.

“I’ve already surpassed my $200 fundraising goal and am now eyeing off $500. Having a team of nine from the brigade get involved in this year’s event fills us with a sense of camaraderie.”

Ms Caffyn said finishing the stair climb would bring a sense of achievement to the brigade.

“I can’t wait to get to the top with everybody and celebrate.”

To make a donation and support the Whittlesea Fire Brigade’s fundraising efforts, visit www.firefighterclimb.org.au/station/cfa/whittlesea.

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