Getting Buff With New York's Bravest

Everyone knows they're New York's bravest. But all that axe wielding and ladder climbing also requires the city's firefighters to be some of the Big Apple's fittest.

Now, one of the FDNY's firemen is taking his shape-up secrets nationwide. The Firefighter's Workout video, created by Capt. Mike Stefano, will be hitting stores this week, just in time for people resolving to get buff for the New Year.

Stefano, a 19-year FDNY veteran and part-time personal trainer, said the two 30-minute workouts are tailored for busy people who, like firefighters, need to be in shape but have demanding schedules. Firefighters need to be well-rested — not worn-out from long workouts — when the alarm sounds, he said.

"The exercises spill over to everyone," Stefano said. "You don't do fire-fighting tasks to stay in shape, you get in shape to do fire-fighting tasks."

Aspiring firefighters must pass a grueling physical and tough competition to get hired. Stefano, a 43-year-old Brooklyn native, began working out in order to make the cut two decades ago and, in the process, developed his routine.

As he rose through the ranks and became responsible for running the firemen under his command through drills, Stefano incorporated his own fitness routine into the workouts. His colleagues encouraged him to take the program public and he wrote The Firefighter's Workout, which was published in Oct. 2000. The book has sold 30,000 copies and is currently in its second printing, a paperback edition that will be available Dec. 24.

Stefano said that due to the attention focused on New York firefighters since Sept. 11, his Web site,, has been racking up the hits. And it was fire-fighting's new celebrity, he said, that brought the video producers to his door.

Lou Gordon, one of the video's producers, said the post-Sept. 11 fireman phenomenon was definitely part of the project's appeal.

"The distributor jumped at it," Gordon said. "We got it produced in a month."

Stefano is not the only firefighter to make a splash in the fitness world. Eric Torres, also a member of the FDNY, has been teaching a class at a New York branch of the national Crunch fitness clubs in which students work up a sweat by simulating actual fire-fighting tasks, like dragging heavy hoses and swinging a blunted axe.

Crunch is known for its rotation of unorthodox and imaginative fitness classes. Torres' class is on hiatus, but will likely begin again in January, said the gym's spokesperson Dana Crawford. The problem is, like many New York firefighters, Torres has been a little busy lately.

Stefano's workout takes the opposite approach to Torres'. Instead of using fire-fighting tasks to shape up, he offers people the routine necessary to build the strength and stamina to perform demanding job of putting out fires and saving lives.

Stefano said the book is closer to the original firehouse weight-training workout than the video and offers readers more customized options.

"The video is more of an aerobic, more of a circuit-training workout with lower weights," Stefano explained.

With both book and video available online, joining the ranks of New York's fittest is only a point and click away. Joining the ranks of New York's bravest, however, takes more than a video.