Firefighters’ abs making an appearance for good causes

Written by Amy Palser

It took a few years of arm-twisting, but Andover Fire Department Lt. Frank Shaw finally agreed to try out for the annual Kansas firefighter calendar. “I let them talk me into it this year,” he said with a laugh. “It’s really a good cause and they’re raising money for the right reasons.”

For Shaw, 51, the “right reason” is a baby whose life he helped save last year. Shaw and another firefighter were the first on the scene following a frantic 911 call for an unresponsive 8-week-old. The two firefighters were able to resuscitate the baby, and Shaw felt a connection to the child after riding to the hospital with him. “They don’t always come out positive, but this one was really good,” said Shaw. “Happy to report, he’s still going strong today.”

The boy, who turned 1 in May, appeared on stage with Shaw during the judging event that landed the firefighter a spot in The Strength of Kansas 2020 Calendar produced by the Kansas Firefighters Alliance (KFA). The calendar is available for purchase online at kansasfirefightersalliance.org and at select retailers across Kansas.

Shaw, a 20-year veteran of the fire department, said firefighters don't necessarily jump at the chance to bare their bodies for the calendar — “especially if someone’s not been working out; they don’t want to take their shirts off,” he joked. But when firefighters can connect to one of the causes the calendar benefits, they usually comply.

Proceeds from this year’s calendar go to support Coats for Kids, to offer a free youth fire camp in Wichita, and to help send young burn victims to Children’s Hospital Colorado Burn Camp. Proceeds also provide decontamination wipes for emergency responders and suicide prevention classes for firefighters.

The decontamination wipes are a passion for Nancy Peters of Wichita, KFA president and founder. As an EMT and firefighter, she knows how crucial the wipes can be, allowing first responders to quickly remove hazardous and potentially cancer-causing chemicals from exposed skin following a rescue operation. Well before returning to the station to shower, first responders can remove contaminants from skin with the wipes. It’s especially important when emergency personnel have back-to-back calls and are unable to shower in between.

Peters, who works at the Conway Springs Fire Department, and husband Greg, a fire captain and paramedic at the Sedgwick County Fire Department, met in 1992 when they were both volunteer firefighters. “When we started fighting fires, the dirtier you were was almost a rite of passage,” she said. “But over the decades, the very materials that are meant to be fire retardants in homes contain chemicals that are dangerous to be exposed to during a fire.”

Peters has watched firefighters develop cancer from chemical exposure — including a fire chief who was a father figure to her. “We all loved him so much,” she said. “Seeing his journey inspired us to make a difference.”

Today, KFA provides decontamination wipes at no cost to every firefighter in every fire department in the state of Kansas. The wipes are also available to police officers and EMTs and can be requested on the KFA website.

Suicide prevention for firefighters is another heart’s cry for Peters, so she’s excited that a portion of calendar sales will help provide free suicide prevention classes for firefighters and their family members.

Sara Thielenhaus, a firefighter/paramedic at Shawnee Heights Fire Department in Tecumseh, Kansas, was happy to take part in the calendar this year for the second time, even though she originally balked at the idea. “A few friends had been in the calendar before and were awesome at it. I got this text one day saying, ‘Sara, you would be great at this, we think you should do it.’ And I said, ‘No, that’s definitely not what I do!’ ”

It took some convincing, but eventually Thielenhaus, 32, agreed to try out for a spot in the 2019 calendar, even though the process was “completely out of my comfort zone,” she said. Once she became involved and learned about the calendar’s mission for the greater good, she was sold. “I had no idea everything it supports. It’s for a really great cause. It’s not just about putting yourself in a calendar.”

She likes that the calendar photos, rather than being suggestive, are geared toward physical fitness and training. “That’s one thing I really like about it. We have a really physical job as firefighters, and the calendar promotes that physical ability to do the job.”

Being in the calendar is definitely a great motivator to get in shape. Thielenhaus’ workout regimen includes running with her dog, doing the elliptical or stairs with a 40-pound weight vest and doing strength-training in the gym five days a week. And then there’s her daily “hundred” routine: “Everyday I try to get in 100 squats, 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups and 100 box jumps.”

Becoming a firefighter was never on Thielenhaus’ radar. In fact, she was a premed major in college and planned on becoming a doctor. She was going through medical school interviews when she took an EMT class and discovered a passion for it. She scrapped her med school plans and started working in EMS, but it wasn’t long before the fire department asked her to join as a firefighter. “I absolutely fell in love the first fire I got to go into — seeing the way fire responds in a building. I was hooked after that. I’ve been a firefighter for seven years now.”

Thielenhaus loves that funds from the calendar go to offering suicide prevention classes and to purchasing decontamination wipes to reduce the risk of cancer. “That’s pretty near and dear to my heart because those (cancer and suicide) are the two major killers of firefighters right now.”

But the cause that’s most fun for Thielenhaus to be a part of is the Youth Fire Camp, a free, daylong camp that takes place in Wichita once a year. Thielenhaus loves kids, and teaching them about fire safety and showing them the ins and outs of her job is a passion. “We basically let the kids see what we do. It’s really cool to see kids go from, ‘My parents are making me be here,’ to ‘I don’t want to go home!’ ”

Lt. Shaw agrees that being able to support the KFA’s mission of helping both kids and firefighters in need is the best thing about being part of the calendar. “It’s all about raising money for great causes,” he said.

Where to find it

The Strength of Kansas 2020 Calendar can be purchased at the Spice Merchant in Wichita and Firehouse Subs in east Wichita and Hutchinson. It can also be purchased online at kansasfirefightersalliance.org. Check the website for other retailers throughout the state.

 
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