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Answering the call for fitness
Firefighters stay in shape for job, to reduce sickness
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Firefighters Franco Torrice and Brad Schemper hit the five-mile-an-hour jog in the departments small workout gym. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Manteca firefighter Franco Torrice takes being in top physical shape seriously as do most of the other members of his B-shift at the Manteca Fire Department’s Union Road fire station. They devote over an hour of cardio exercise at the beginning of their day.

He and the other men in the squad including Bob Marty, Traig Smith, Tom Soloranzo and Mike Hahn follow the lead of their chief, Kirk Waters, in constantly improving their ability to meet the challenges of the fire service.  Waters spends most of his lunch hours running the entire length of the Tidewater Bike Path to keep in shape.

“He also bikes, lifts weights and, when he is in the gym, he motivates all of us,” the firefighter said of his boss.

Torrice said the 36 firefighters on the other Union Road shift and at the other two stations share in the rigors of staying fit from lifting weights, to running on the treadmills, jumping rope, bicycling and doing stair step-ups on the side of a fire engine or an outside ladder.

Torrice wears a 40-pound vest when he works out – the weight of the equipment he must wear at a fire scene.  The 39-year-old firefighter said he has lost some 40 pounds this past 15 months through exercise and by watching what he is eating – now at 190, down from 230 pounds.

The Union station squad has an actual chef in firefighter Captain Rob Grycel who was about to enter culinary school when he was hired by the fire department years ago.  Torrice credits Grycel’s cooking to some of his weight loss, since he doesn’t prepare red meat dishes – mostly chicken, fish and pork along with his special delights from the kitchen.

The weight training and stretch periods start the day for firefighters at about 7 a.m. at the discretion of their captain for some three days a week, Torrice said.  Most firefighters continue their regimen at home or at a local gym when they are not on duty at the station.

“We play soccer and softball being as physically active as possible,” he said, “and as non-contact as possible.”

Torrice added that physical fitness leads to better mental health in putting more demands on the bodies and minds of the firefighters.  His overall health and that of his peers has improved with the daily exercising, he added, being required to submit to DMV physicals every two years.

Torrice noted there are less workman compensation claims with the fitness of the department and also much less off-duty sick day usage which saves the city the funding for the related overtime. 

When students meet up with Torrice on fire station tours, they get the message that will lead them to success someday in the fire service:  “Eat right, exercise, know math, and geography if you want to be a firefighter – exercise and stay in shape.”

— Glenn Kahl

staff reporter