Sammamish firefighter climbs to honor her sister

March 16, 2014

By Sherry Grindeland

New: March 16, 3:41 p.m.

Emily Harig stood out in the crowd of firefighters and volunteers at the Big Climb March 9 in Seattle. She was the firefighter wearing the pink helmet that read, “Climbing for Julia.”

The Sammamish woman, 21, ran up 1,316 stairs in Seattle’s Columbia Tower during the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“I do the climb for my twin sister, Julia, who died from leukemia eight and a half months ago,” Harig said.

Emily Harig dons a pink firefighter helmet in honor of her sister before the 2013 stair climb.  Contributed photo

Emily Harig dons a pink firefighter helmet in honor of her sister before the 2013 stair climb. Contributed photo

It was the third year the 2004 Eastlake High School graduate, a volunteer firefighter with Eastside Fire & Rescue, did the climb.

Running stairs is part of Harig’s normal routine to stay physically fit for firefighting duty. She also lifts weights and hikes. Her part time job at True Martial Arts in Sammamish helps keep her in shape, too.

“I teach tae kwon do mostly to pee wees – little kids – and those long, low stances make your legs strong,” she said.

Staying in shape, she said, is as important as her classes at Bellevue College. Her ultimate goal is to become a fulltime firefighter.

She moved one step closer to that goal in December when she was selected to be the “sleeper” at the recently remodeled EFR Station 88 in Wilderness Rim, near North Bend. Sleepers agree to stay at the all-volunteer stations five nights a week. EFR’s other sleeper program, operates out of the station near Tiger Mountain.

“We have the sleeper programs to cut down on the response time,” said EFR Deputy Chief Bud Backer. “By having sleepers in our volunteer stations, we cut our response times by three or four minutes which can be huge in an emergency.”

Harig doesn’t stay alone. Other volunteers rotate through, depending upon their personal schedules. “By having a permanent person on duty 20 nights a month, we only need one other person to volunteer to give us enough of a crew to run an aid car,” Backer said. “That’s the bulk of our overnight calls.”

There are several payoffs for such an intense volunteer commitment, he added.

The sleeper can call the station home. They can still maintain a fulltime job – or in Harig’s case go to school as well as work.

“The biggest driver is, they gain experience and get to build up their resume,” he said. “Most of them are in the program because they want to become fulltime, career firefighters.”

Harig has one more plus, Backer added.

“With Emily you’ve got to give her credit because it is part of her desire to help people.”

Harig applied for the position for that extra experience, hoping it will give her resume an edge over other would-be career firefighters. Plus she enjoys every second of it.

Meanwhile, she studies. She helps friends in Sammamish with their brewery and she occasionally pulls barista duties at her church.

Harig enjoys her teaching at True Martial Arts where owner Skyler Zoppi praised her highly.

“Emily is very selfless,” he said. “The things she loves and chooses to do only make her rich in character, not in the pocketbook.”

Harig already has an Associate’s Degree in firefighting and she became an EMT when she worked for an ambulance company. Her parents paid for her to attend a 10-week training program at the Washington State Patrol Firefighting Academy.

Harig wants to be a fire fighter for several reasons. She finds it challenging both mentally and physically, but the best part, she said, is the feeling at the end of the day that she’s helped someone.

She’s been fascinated with a firefighting career since she was a child. A friend’s father was a fireman and after touring the station, she was hooked. He encouraged her to join the Boy Scout’s Fire Explorer program in Redmond. Her model fire trucks decorate the breakfast bar at Station 88. Her bookends on her headboard are fire hydrants – a gift from her mother.

“Moms are the best,” she said. “They know what’s in our hearts.”


Finish line

At 28:59, Emily Harig placed 74 out of the 138 female participants, and 1,323/1,652 of overall racers. She is part of Local 2878 team, which has raised more than $37,000. They are currently 3/10 of the top fundraising teams. For more details, see the “Results” tab on the homepage:

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