MISSOULA – If Missoula firefighters ever need to get a cat out of a tree, chances are they’ll call on new firefighter Emily Garlough. She’s not only a professional tree climber, but in her first year has emerged as one of the best women in the Northwest in the Seattle Stair Climb.
“I started at the Missoula Fire Department about a year ago," Garlough said. "I just became a confirmed firefighter and prior to that I’ve been a tree climber for about seven years and before that I was a wildland firefighter for the Lolo Hot Shots.”
Garlough is one of four women working as a Missoula firefighter and embracing the very active lifestyle of her colleagues.
“Everybody’s got their niche, so the stair climbing is something that the department is really excited about," she said. "It’s open to anybody, whether you want to try and go and be real competitive or just go and have fun with it and take your time. I mean, there’s people that take an hour and a half to get to the top.”
The “top” is the 76-stores of the Columbia Center in Seattle, where Missoula firefighters like Andy Drobeck and Ben Brunsvold have dominated for several years. But in her first year, Emily had impressive placing herself, finishing 10th among women from all over the region, packing the same turnout gear as the men.
“Yep, it’s just like going into a structure fire here in Missoula. We wear our full gear, our bunkers. You’ve got the mask on, so that’s a little bit claustrophobic for some people. And you’re on a timed bottle. So as you’re going up you’re breathing your bottle down and you just want to make sure you don’t run out of air.”
“You get so excited. And you just give it your all. And when I got to the top I couldn’t even open my eyes. There’s people right there at the finish line that kind of pick you up and help you get your mask and your helmet off. And it’s everything you have just to stay upright. It’s a very, very difficult event.
“What went through your mind when you found out you finished at Number 10?”
“Oh, you know I was pretty excited. I didn’t really go into with a real competitive attitude, but wanted to do the best that I could do for me. That’s just the cherry on top.”
“There’s a pretty accomplished list of stairclimbers here. Do you think they’ll be coming to you for a few tips maybe this year?”
“Oh no. Those guys are in a whole different league than me! I’m just there to have fun.”
For Emily, stair climbing is just another challenge in a very active life, whether it’s mountain biking, hiking, or even paragliding off the slopes of Mount Sentinel. A Missoula life, helping to save Missoula lives. A calling other young women can aspire to.
“The biggest thing about it is we just to get to interact with the community in such a positive way and help people out on their very worst day. We’re there to lighten things up a little bit and hopefully make a bad situation a little bit better.’
“Come to the department. Reach out to people. Everybody’s really open and welcoming. Just get under somebody’s wing and stay motivated to keep moving and follow what you love. You can make anything happen that you want."
Emily has run her own business as an arborist, climbing trees for the past five years in her off time. And here’s the twist: she’s teaching veteran stair climber Ben Brunsvold how to do that.