On a recent Saturday morning, York City Fire Capt. Dave Ferguson sipped coffee and traded jokes with the skinny guys making his breakfast at the Vigilant Fire Station.
He couldn't pull his attention from the sizzle in the frying pan.
"Trying to lose weight, and they get regular bacon," Ferguson said, waving his hand in feigned disgust. "Amazing."
As two firefighters tended to the sizzling meat, the rest of the middle-aged men in the room teased each other about who would lose the most weight. They discussed ways to justify meatball-sub "cheat nights" and listed the healthy foods -- like yogurt -- they still couldn't stomach.
York City's firefighters are trying to slim down.
About a quarter of the department's 59 firefighters -- including Acting Chief David Michaels -- have accepted a challenge modeled after television's "Biggest Loser" series. In June, the contestants will weigh in to find out who shed the most pounds.
"There's money on the table, but more so I think it's for everybody to get healthy again," firefighter Allen Fuentes said.
For example, firefighter Gordon Myers said he'd like to drop 30 pounds. Myers, a city firefighter for 20 years, said his plan is to cut out snacks, stay away from soda and make more time for exercise in his schedule.
The occasional slice of bacon hasn't prevented Ferguson from making progress on his own weight-loss goals. Since the Jan. 2 weigh-in,
Ferguson said, he's lost seven pounds with the simple strategy of exercising more and eating less.
Demanding jobs: The idea for a weight-loss competition was born in December at an annual meeting.
"Looking around the room, we got the idea pretty easily," Fuentes joked.
Most of the city's firefighters are middle-aged guys whose demanding jobs have gotten more demanding in recent years.
The average age of a York City firefighter is around 42, said Assistant Chief Greg Altland. The recent hiring of a few young guys brought the average age down from 47 just a couple of years ago, he said.
Meanwhile, volunteer ranks are dwindling. Medical calls are on the rise. And staffing cuts have meant the department is "doing more with less," Altland said.
"We can get hurt that way, too, if you're not in shape," said Rolando Suarez, a 43-year-old firefighter who's aiming to lose 10 pounds before June.
In the fast-paced world of firefighting, Fuentes admitted he and his peers have picked up some bad habits when it comes to food choices.
"It's easy for us to run up to McDonald's and get something there for dinner," he said.
Breakfast tradition: But on the long and laid-back weekend shifts, York City firefighters have a breakfast tradition of eggs, sausage and -- of course -- bacon. It's one of the few times city firefighters share a meal.
Each guy takes a turn buying the groceries. Everyone chows down together.
The job of buying breakfast for the first time since the weigh-in belonged to 24-year-old firefighter Matt Hoblitzell, who said he kept his comrades' weight-loss goals in mind as he shopped the grocery store.
"I was reading all the labels, trying to figure out what was healthier," he said.
Usually, the 10-man shift devours three pounds of bacon, Hoblitzell said. He bought two pounds this time to discourage bacon indulgence. Instead of potatoes, there were slices of honeydew and cantaloupe.
Tubs of yogurt were decorated with words like "organic" and "low fat."
As calls to eat rang out, Ferguson made his way to the smorgasbord. He grabbed some cantaloupe and piled bacon and eggs onto a piece of low-calorie bread.
"All I need now is a piece of cheese," he said with a smile.
-- Erin James may also be reached at ejame firstname.lastname@example.org.