George Sumner is waiting for the signal. The fire chief for the South Davis Metro Fire Department is wearing the same heavy and faded bunker gear he has worn to save lives many times before. With help from another firefighter, Sumner adjusts his oxygen mask and puts on his helmet, heavy duty boots and gloves. He is standing outside the Wells Fargo Building on Main Street, alert and ready.

Three ... two ... one ... BEEP.

Finally it's his turn. Running under an arch of red and white balloons, Sumner runs into the building. But on this day, he's not attempting to save someone from a grueling fire, he's climbing stairs.

Firefighter teams, police squads and Salt Lake City residents climbed the stairs of the tallest building in Utah on Saturday as part of the second annual "Tackle the Tower," a fund-raising event for the American Lung Association of Utah.

This was Sumner's second year racing, so he had come with a strategy to help him scale the 422 feet in 50 pound gear: "It's all about pacing yourself."

And 598 steps later, the 61-year-old Sumner runs out of the 23rd floor stairwell to a cheering crowd. With shaking hands, Sumner removes his equipment and wipes the sweat from his face, telling a fellow firefighter that "it was really hot in there." His total time: eight minutes and 28 seconds. He is currently in 14th place out of the 150 participants who ran this year.

"I love a good challenge," he said. "I love seeing everyone giving pep talks and coming together."

The exhaustion of climbing 422 feet is similar to what firefighters face, said Susie Alley, a firefighter from the same department as Sumner.

"It was definitely harder than I thought," Alley said. "But I would do it again because it's such a good cause."

The event raised about $20,000, said Sylvia Pacheco, ALA of Utah chair. The funds will be used to help find cures for lung disease, which is the third-leading cause of death in America, and asthma, which affects 60,000 people in Utah.

Sarah Boucher, business student at the University of Phoenix, not only raced against the other participants, but also against her own 11-year-old son, Justin. Boucher, who runs four days a week, lost to her son by three minutes.

"It was pretty hard," Boucher, mother of three, said. "It's important for people to take care of themselves and exercise, but this was brutal."


E-mail: abreton@desnews.com