THREE Echuca-Moama firefighters will tackle 28 flights of stairs next month in the fight against mental illness.
Moama Fire and Rescue’s Andrew Heriot and Echuca CFA’s Luke Waterson and Col Munro are training to race up Crown Metropol Hotel as part of the Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb on September 7.
Wearing 25kg of turnout gear and a breathing apparatus, the men will join 500 fellow firefighters in the event, which aims to raise $700,000 for Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute to improve support services, fund research, remove stigmas and raise awareness of depression, PTSI and suicide.
Andrew first did the stair climb in 2017 after the breakdown of his marriage.
"It was a rough stage in my life so I decided to give something back," he said.
"Mental health is at the top of people's minds and very prevalent in the community, so I'm doing this try to raise awareness in the community and break down the stigma.
"I was the prime candidate for bottling things up but people shouldn’t do that."
The 39-year-old completed his first climb in six minutes and 55 seconds which he hopes to better this year.
"I want to do it in six minutes so I've got a bit of work to do," he said.
Col is a veteran of the event, doing every climb since it started in 2014 - recording a personal best time of five minutes and 37 seconds.
"That year was for the Alfred Burns Unit and a guy I had worked with had spent time in there so that's the reason I started," Col said.
"I've just done it every year since. The money they raise this year for mental health services will help to ensure operators will be working on the busiest times so hopefully that saves someone's life."
Luke, who volunteers with Echuca CFA and is the CFA Gannawarra District Commander, said mental illness was a big issue and affected so many people which was why this event was so important.
"For me it's not about setting a time, it's about about awareness around suicide prevention and mental health as well as removing the stigma around that and know that it's okay not be okay," he said.
"And coming together with agencies from different states is a really good show of camaraderie."
In preparation for the challenge, Andrew is training two to three times a week, while Col and Luke are taking more of a carefree approach.
But they all want the same thing.
"The main goal is to finish and to have fun doing it," Andrew said.
And he's more than half way to his goal of $500. To sponsor a firefighter, go to firefighterclimb.org.au/