Towering challenge for firefighters

Wednesday October 31, 2018 Written by Published in Local
Asili Vunabaka, Fletcher Melvin, Tarina Moorfi eld, Trish Barton, Kerry Driver, and Jason Moorfi eld train for the Sky Tower Stair Challenge on Hospital Hill. 18102210 Asili Vunabaka, Fletcher Melvin, Tarina Moorfi eld, Trish Barton, Kerry Driver, and Jason Moorfi eld train for the Sky Tower Stair Challenge on Hospital Hill. 18102210

When they are not tackling blazes, a group of hardy volunteer firefighters from the Puaikura brigade are setting their sights high – 51 storeys up Auckland’s Sky Tower.


Tarina and Jason Moorfield, Trish Barton, Kerry Driver, Fletcher Melvin and Asili Vunabaka are training for the Auckland Sky Tower Stair Challenge, which takes place on May 18 next year.

The annual challenge raises money for the battle against leukaemia and has been running for the past 14 years. It involves climbing 51 floors, or 1103 steps, to the top of the tower … while in full firefighting gear.  

To put a weight on that challenge, each competitor will be carting up to 25kg of kit all the way to the top.

So how is our team – the first from the Cook Islands – preparing for the ordeal?

At the moment they are taking advantage of Hospital Hill to build up their fitness.

And they are not tackling it in shorts and running shoes – it’s boots, protective gear and even wearing their steel air cylinders.

Just looking at them running up the hill is exhausting, it has to be said.

Both Tarina and Jason have done the challenge before – he once and she three times.

“I did it this year and that’s what has sparked the enthusiasm,” Tarina says. “These guys encouraged me to do it.

“It’s a little bit scary to start with … the first storeys are the hardest and then once you are into it it’s over and done with before you know it.

“For the first 10 floors you are thinking ‘what the hell am I doing?’. And then you are alright. Everyone supports each other going up.”

The fastest man has finished it in eight minutes and the fastest women in 12 minutes.

“I did in just under 15 minutes,” Tarina says.

So why are the others doing it?

Kerry Driver says: “I’m doing it for the charity and the fire brigade, for our own personal challenges and to promote health and fitness among Cook Islanders.”

Fletcher Melvin: “I’m doing it because I think it would be good for the Cook Islands to be represented at the event. And it is good for general fitness for our brigade. It’s a good motivator for us to stay fit.”

Tarina says 800 people registered for this year’s event and “it keeps getting bigger and bigger”.

Next year’s event may attract up to 1000 climbers, according to the firefighter challenge website.

General registration opens on November 5 and Tarina says “it will be closed within half an hour. “

“We’ve been given preferential entry, as it is the first time a team from the Cooks is going.”

There are three categories in the event: “Donned”, where the entrants wear an air cylinder (usually carbon fibre) on their backs; “Donned and started”, with the breathing mask in place, and “Man of Steel” where they climb 60 floors with a steel tank.

While they train with steel tanks, the Cook Islands team will compete with carbon fibre tanks, which they say are “quite a bit lighter”.

The Auckland Sky Tower Stair Challenge is the largest fundraising event in New Zealand with last year’s event bringing in $1 million.

The funds raised are used to support Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand’s work in the community, including core services such as personalised support for patients and their families. The organisation receives no government funding.

Tarina says: “As Cook Islanders we recognise that many of our own children will also use the services and benefit from this worthwhile charity.”

And she asks: “We would like your help to get the first Cook Island team to complete the Sky Tower Stair Challenge.

“This will require physical and mental strength from our Cook Island firefighters who are determined to complete the challenge.

“We will be fundraising towards our flights to Auckland, travel-related expenses and uniform.”

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