Health guru Dr. Mehmet Oz was in town to tape "The Oprah Winfrey Show" when he was approached by one of the city's finest: a firefighter.
"A burly gentleman came up and said, 'More of us are dying from the fork than from fires,'" Oz recalls of that bleak January day. And that's when he says the idea came to him -- to try and use three local firefighters as examples of the magic that can happen when they actually make a commitment to clean up their eating habits.
It's no secret that many firehouses are an ode to unhealthy foods: heavy, fried, stick-to-the-ribs kind of options that many of the very civil servants that we rely on to help us in our time of need are paying the price for eating. Heart disease, diabetes and excess pounds are all results of the lifestyle that's often taken for granted in a firehouse, says Oz, who quickly got to work after that chance encounter earlier this year.
The first step was finding three firemen who needed to make a drastic change and were up to the challenge: to lose 4 inches off their waist in 60 days. They began with a brave tell-all appearance on "The Dr. Oz Show" that aired in February. It's now coming up on their two months and time to talk results.
Mauricio "Mo" Tirado is on Truck 19 stationed at Engine 14 house, 1125 W. Chicago. At 24, he's the rookie of the three and also the sous chef of his firehouse. At 5-foot-10, he began the process as the heaviest, weighing in at 284 pounds with a waist size of 49 inches.
Egnechles "Iggy" Brown is the 47-year-old driver of Tower Ladder 34 at 79th and South Chicago Avenue. He has 17 years on the job. Brown, who is 5-foot-11, weighed in at 235 pounds with a 43-inch waist.
The 5-foot-11 Doug Crowley is with Engine 116 at 60th and South Ashland. With a family history of heart disease, at age 37 he was on cholesterol-lowering medication with a 44-inch waistline and 237 pounds.
Oz enlisted the help of Austin, Texas-based firefighter Rip Esselstyn, once a professional triathlete and author of The Engine 2 Diet, who has helped hundreds of other firefighters around the country change their relationship with food.
"Firehouses are the dumping ground of all of America's leftovers -- you couldn't create a better atmosphere for unhealthy eating," Esselstyn says. "It's such a masculine culture -- they think you need to eat dairy, eggs and meat and if you don't you're a little sissy girl."
It's these supposedly macho eating habits, he says, that are leading to overweight firefighters, which can be a liability at a fire, especially if they can't run up a ladder, pull hundreds of pounds of hose or run up steps without getting winded.
For two months Tirado, Brown, and Crowley were told to eliminate all cholesterol from their diets by avoiding meat, dairy and extracted oils, essentially following a vegan diet as well as an exercise program. For guys who once could eat meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner, the parameters came as a shock.
"At first when I was on the show, I was like OK each one of us will give up one of these three things," Tirado says. "When Dr. Oz told us it was all of them, I thought, are you nuts? You're crazy."