Climber pays tribute to those killed on 9/11

(March 21, 2011)

san-francisco-examiner

March 21, 2011

The San Francisco Fight for Air Climb takes on even greater significance this year for one city firefighter.

Greg Collaco scaled the 1,197 steps of 555 California St., The City’s tallest “climbable” building, each of the first four years of the American Lung Association fundraising event, which began in 2007.

In 2009, Collaco compiled his personal best time. The strain on his lungs from the 13-minute climb, however, resulted in a bout with pneumonia.

The San Francisco native was back at it again in 2010. He not only climbed the 52 floors, but completed the feat dressed in full fire gear.

Collaco, 42, is team captain this year of FDNY 343 Tribute. On Saturday, each member of the team will climb the skyscraper, wearing the name and a photograph of one of the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11.

He recalls that September day nearly 10 years ago, his first year as a post-probation, full-fledged San Francisco firefighter. Collaco watched the tragedy unfold with his colleagues on the fire station television.

“Whenever I think of 9/11, I have an image of the firefighters in the high rises, so the stair climb for me is synonymous with firefighters in a stairwell,” Collaco said. “Firefighters going up while everyone else is going down.”

To honor those who lost their lives in the 110-floor World Trade Center, FDNY 343 Tribute team members will complete not one, but two ascents of the former Bank of America building.

“I’m going to wear full gear on the first climb. I’ll be more of a cheerleader the second time around,” Collaco said. “People will have to dig deep. I’ll remind them that they’re doing it for the firefighters who died and to let their families know that we haven’t forgotten.”

Motivation for the cause also comes from wife Bridget, an asthma sufferer, and his three kids, each of whom use inhalers for their seasonal asthma and allergies.

Collaco’s efforts have FDNY 343 Tribute atop the event’s 130-team fundraising ladder. Having also organized a firefighter-only competitive stair climb last summer, the San Bruno resident seems to be a natural for a future in SFFD public relations.

For now, though, the former Candlestick Park vendor’s focus has been on rallying his team rather than on his own training.

“My goal this year is not to be the fastest person. My goal is to pay tribute,” Collaco said. “It is going to be very emotional.”

ALA’s San Francisco Fight for Air Climb

WHAT: A “vertical road race” up 52 floors

WHERE: 555 California St., San Francisco

WHEN: Saturday; staggered wave climbs from 8:45 a.m. to noon

POSTCLIMB PARTY: In the 52nd floor banquet room

INFO: www.FightforAirClimb.org or (510) 893-5474 ext. 339