Running into a burning building isn’t for the weak of heart or the plain weak. This is especially the case in New York City where firefighters must sprint up flights of stairs and remove heavy debris only to carry someone back down the way they came. If you live in the Upper East Side between 96th and 125th streets you can sleep soundly knowing that perhaps the fittest firehouse in the country is just a phone call away.
If they were not firefighters, the crew of Ladder 43, which consists of a Golden Glove boxer, marathon runners, a personal trainer, CrossFitters, former marines and a karate black belt could easily find themselves starring in The Expendables 3.
For this crew, working out isn’t about having big biceps or getting ready for beach season; they work out so when they get called for a fire they can throw you over their shoulder and get you down those stairs. “In our line of work, fitness is 90 percent of the job,” says Al Serino who is also a personal trainer. “Staying in shape is essential.”
While a lot of them do bodybuilding exercises such as bench presses and curls from time to time, they are secondary to the type of functional training that prepares them for their job. Squats, pull-ups, core and cardio are staples of their programs.
Four years ago when Serino started doing CrossFit in a local gym, he knew immediately it was something he had to bring to the firehouse. “[CrossFit] is great for us because it’s high-intensity and involves both strength training and cardio,” says Serino. “Also air tanks usually last between 20 to 25 minutes of working time and that’s how long those workouts usually are.”
He thought so highly of the program, in fact, that he turned the weight room just feet away from their fire trucks into the first FDNY-CrossFit affiliate.
The CrossFit program along with their diverse backgrounds in physical fitness has already helped to save lives. “We have a lot of carry downs with very obese people and we are able to get them out with less people than maybe other companies would.”
Ladder 43 Lieutenant Tony Montaruli is quick to pass the credit for running the fittest firehouse back onto his crew. “I never have to encourage them to work out,” says Montaruli. “If anything, they keep me motivated and keep me fit, which keeps me on the job.”
“We are successful because we motivate each other,” says Serino. “Seeing one of your co-workers in the gym working out makes you feel guilty to sit on the couch and eat a piece of cake. Plus we are always mixing up the workouts to keep it different and interesting.”
One different workout includes running on the treadmill or sprinting on the StairMaster while wearing an oxygen deprivation mask. “The deprivation mask makes it much tougher to breathe, which prepares us for fires,” says Kieran Frawley “I use a lot less air than someone who is out of shape would use so I can stay in a building longer,” which translates into more saved lives.
In the early morning hours, the members of the house can also be found doing p90x, running on the treadmill or doing rope climbs in their dark weight room. There is a palpable sense of urgency in their workouts.
For these men staying in shape isn’t just a hobby or a New Year’s Resolution. For them being strong and physically fit can make the difference between life and death, and they’re not willing to take any chances.