Climbing the Carew Tower: Covington firefighter team preps for 45-floor competition

Covington Fire Lt. Mike Davis, left, urges on Firefighter Stu Johnson as they prepare for Sunday’s Fight for Air Climb. 


COVINGTON, Ky. - Covington firefighter Stu Johnson slid off his Air-Pak and bent over, sweat literally dripping off his forehead and hitting the tiled floor. 

He was hot, and his legs ached.
Wearing 55 pounds of gear, Johnson had just climbed the equivalent of 45 flights of stairs on a StairMaster Stepmill - and his workout was just getting started.
Why the intensity?
Well, obviously it pays to be in good shape when, at a moment’s notice, you could be carrying a smoke inhalation victim out of a burning building, handling a high-pressure hose, or climbing a ladder.
But Johnson had an additional reason: Come Sunday, he and seven teammates from the Covington Fire Department will be competing in the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb in Cincinnati.
Technically, it’s a fund-raiser for the health advocacy group, but about two dozen fire departments in the region have turned it into an annual battle for bragging rights.
And Covington’s firefighters are, as the adage goes, “in it to win it.”
“It’s our third year competing,” said Lt. Mike Davis, another Covington team member. “We came in second our first year, and last year we actually won it.”
Not only did Covington’s team finish first, but Johnson obliterated the previous “course” record of 8 minutes and 5 seconds and set a new one of 7:25.
“My goal is to beat my time from last year,” he said, explaining his two-a-day high-intensity workouts.
So where is the “course?”
It’s Cincinnati’s Carew Tower, the city’s second-tallest building. The event consists of climbing 45 of the tower’s 49 floors. That’s 804 steps. And in the Firefighter and First Responder Division, you wear an air pack, a helmet, and a heavy firefighter’s coat, pants, and boots.
“I don’t pace myself. I just go until I die,” Johnson said of his strategy.
But Davis said that was unusual. “Most guys, if you do it under 10 minutes, you’re hustling.”
Davis said team members both work out together and on their own, with the best preparation being walking the three flights of stairs at Company 1 (over and over) or going to The Colony apartment complex and walking its 11 floors four or five times.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: And then, to show one obstacle to adopting the kind of regular training schedule required to climb 45 floors in 7 minutes wearing 55 pounds of gear, the emergency tones dropped at the Covington fire station, and Davis had to end his workout before it even started.)
Besides Davis and Johnson, other Covington team members are David Ausdenmoore, Mike Hilton, Brian Moellinger, Scott Moellinger, Timothy Petry and Kurt Thomas, all of whom are either firefighter/paramedics or engineers within the Covington department.

All told, firefighters wear about 55 pounds of gear for the 45-floor climb.

Spectators are welcome at the Fight for Air Climb, which begins at 6:45 a.m. Saturday. The Firefighter and First Responder Challenge Division begins at noon.
Covington residents can also sponsor members of Covington’s team with a tax-deductible financial donation. To see the Covington Fire Department’s team page, or to donate, click HERE.

The fastest members of Covington’s team had the lowest average time in the 2018 event.

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