Nine Park City Park City Fire District firefighters will be racing up 23 flights of stairs for the American Lung Association on Feb. 23.

"It's brutal," Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt said. "I've run a marathon and it's nothing like this. It's painful because you are also breathing air from a mask, so you are regulated on the air you are taking in."

The participants will race up the stairs while wearing 45 pounds of gear, including a regulator, mask, hose and helmet.

Peter Emery, who is leading the Park City Park City Fire District team, said the climb is awful.

"We have to wear all our gear and our masks," he said. "With the mask it's pretty hard."

Despite the challenge, Emery said he's been participating in the event every year since it began in Utah eight years ago.

"It's a fundraising event held annually nationwide," said Glenn Lanham, American Lung Association of Utah Executive Director. "Most states that have an active chapter conduct the climb. We do it at the Wells Fargo Center because it's one of the tallest buildings in Salt Lake."

Last year was the first year the Park City Fire District won a title, beating the five-time Salt Lake City champions by over 40 seconds.

"When I came here as chief, I told them, you've got to take this," Hewitt said.

The team won a championship ax that is passed from winning team to winning team each year.

"So, if one of these teams beat us, they are going to take the ax from us, so we want to win. We are defending the championship," Hewitt said.

The winning team is selected based on the top four best times.

Eric Hockridge won an award for the fastest time, taking only four minutes and 16 seconds to reach the top, narrowly missing the course record of four minutes and 15 seconds.

Hewitt said he has tasked Hockridge to break the four-minute mark this year.

While the event brings out the competitiveness of its participants, the goal is to raise funds for the American Lung Association.

"The event is to raise money and increase awareness, and also have funding to support advocacy and educational campaigns," Lanham said. "Hopefully we will raise a minimum of $50,000 to $60,000 this year."

Registration will be open till the day of the event, with a $35 registration fee before the event, and $50 on Feb. 23.

In addition, participants are asked to fundraise $100.

"Come up with a paragraph about why you are climbing and who you are climbing for. Do you have a sibling, niece or nephew that suffers from asthma? Does someone in your family have lung disease? That's who you are climbing for, because they can't. If you send a paragraph like that to 10 people for $10, that's $100," Lanham said.

Those who register on Feb. 23 and haven't raised any money will be asked to pay $150, for the day-of registration fee and the fundraising minimum.

Teams are asked to raise $100 average for each teammate as well. So a team of ten is required to raise $1,000.

The Park City Fire District has raised $705 towards their goal of $1,000.

The money raised for the event goes to local programs, such as Camp Wyatt, a camp for youth suffering from asthma.

"It's a life changing experience," Lanham said. "Our goal is for a boy or girl to say at the end of a week, 'I control my asthma; it doesn't control me.' It empowers them and gives them confidence, which is as important as the medical side."

The Lung Association also educates elementary school children about asthma and teenagers about the dangers of smoking, and teaches them how to quit if they have started.

The money funds ongoing research, as well, for diseases such as lung cancer, lung disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Anyone, young and old, is welcome to participate in the event, or to ride an elevator to the top floor to watch the participants cross the threshold, Lanham said.

The event will take place from 7 a.m. to noon at the Wells Fargo Center, located at 299 South Main Street in Salt Lake City.

To register for the event or donate to the Park City Park City Fire District, visit fightforairclimb.org.