These firefighters would take the shirt off their back for a good cause, and they did just that recently when they went topless for a much-anticipated G-rated, 18-month calendar featuring members of the Chagrin Falls Suburban Volunteer Fireman’s Association .
In the professionally photographed calendar, 17 fire department members appear bare-chested wearing parts of their work gear.
The exception is the 18th member of the pin-up calendar squad, female firefighter Britany Isom, an emergency medical technician with the department for two-years. She chose a bralette for her photo shoot.
Chief Frank Zugan, 52, is among the shirtless pictured on the pages of the department’s first ever calendar because, “I would never ask my guys to do something I would not do myself.
“It was an absolute blast and obviously different from what we usually do. I’d do it again, and I bet the other guys would, too,” Chief Zugan noted.
Ten-year firefighter Steve Wloszek confessed while the shoot itself was not intimidating, the photos should be viewed on what he described as a “sliding age scale.”
“I’m 54, so it is not easy standing there with your shirt off next to a 25-year-old fresh out of the Marines.”
His other concern is what will happen once the calendar comes out and that fellow firefighters might doctor the photos by adding speech balloons.
“I’m sure my brother and sister firefighters would never doctor the photo with speech balloons or draw in new parts,” he said.
But there were one or two calendar participants who chose to leave their shirts on. Fire Marshal Jim Finley was one of them.
“I didn’t even sign up because I wanted calendars to sell,” he joked. Because he is highly visible in the community, he said he was “volunteered” anyway.
He did agree to participate, “but I told everyone well in advance what I would or would not do,” said Mr. Finley, a decorated Iraq war veteran who was severely wounded when his convoy fell victim to a roadside explosive device.
It wasn’t vanity that kept him from posing bare chested. The attack left scars.
“I am not really comfortable with my shirt off,” he noted. “I do have a lot or scars on my body and I’d rather keep them to myself.”
The fire marshal said he enjoyed the experience and would do it again. “It was fun being a model for a few hours, even though it was lacking ‘hair and make-up.’”
He and Chief Zugan credit professional photographers Rob Saap and Rob Kurtz for making it a stress-free experience for the inexperienced firefighting models.
The two photographers directed the shoot over two days, choosing familiar settings and Chagrin Valley parks as backdrops. It was a logistical feat because of the firefighters’ varying schedules.
“I got to shoot in Hunting Valley at the Case Western Reserve University Farm, which I enjoy visiting,” Mr. Finley said. Because of his knowledge of the area he was able to show them “some spots off the beaten path, and we’re all better for it,” he laughed.
In the end, the photo shoot “was quite a production (and) people will be very surprised when they see the finished product,” according to John Catani, a captain in the department with 15 years of experience.
Everyone will have that chance Sunday during the “big reveal” calendar launch party, the first day of public sale for the $25 calendar. The event begins at 2 p.m. in Chagrin Falls Township Hall, 83 N. Main St., downtown Chagrin Falls.
The free admission party will feature the firefighting models who will sign calendars and make themselves available for selfies with their fans. Refreshments will be available including the fire department’s award winning chili.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG? – For years various women in the community suggested the fire department produce a calendar starring its own members, like those that have been successful fundraisers for other fire departments.
“But you know me, ‘Debbie Downer,’” Chief Zugan said of his longtime resistance to the idea.
Then Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Molly Gebler came along and persisted, suggesting photos of Chagrin Falls firefighters – with an 18-month calendar as bonus thrown in for good measure – would be a hit and raise money for department programs and fire station improvements.
It took three years, but Mrs. Gebler prevailed. “She was constantly on me about it, but I got back at her. I made her calendar chairman, and she did a great job.”
“Molly Gebler can move mountains,” Mr. Catani said. “We are very lucky to have her behind us and the department.”
“I just love these guys and this fire department, and it was so much fun putting this together,” Mrs. Gebler said.
While the calendar is not sponsored by the chamber, Mrs. Gebler does take a leadership role in the organizations’s week-long First Responders Recognition honoring local police officers, firefighters and members of the Chagrin Falls Suburban Volunteer Fireman’s Association’s emergency medical personnel.
WHAT ABOUT THE WIVES? – The firefighters may have agreed to participate in the pin-up photo calendar, but did their wives have a say?
Mr. Wloszek said he agreed to be photographed shirtless only because “I never miss a chance to embarrass my wife, my beautiful loving, caring best friend of a wife.”
“My wife thought it was great,” Mr. Finley said. “She knows it’s going to be a funny public relations thing that will hopefully help out the fire department. She also watched the ‘12 Men of Christmas’ on Lifetime, so she knows the drill.”
Mr. Catani said his wife had no problem with the world seeing him bare-chested. “She told me I could take my shirt off for the photo shoot, but since we have been together for 10 years, I have learned to listen very closely to how she said it, and it was clear she did not want me to take my shirt off.”
VERY WORTHY CAUSE – Fire department members bared some of themselves for an important cause, the long-awaited addition to and upgrades of their Walnut Street fire station, which stalled when bids for the work came in much higher than expected.
There was also the missed 2019 holiday donation season while the department waited for acceptance of its newly-formed not for profit 501(c)(3) charitable foundation through which it can legally accept monetary gifts and funds raised through special projects such as the calendar.
The department has raised about half of the original $650,000 goal. At $25 each, that’s about 13,000 calendars.