Michael Bitney

When Michael Bitney joined his local volunteer fire department in 2002, he didn't realize how out of shape he was. "Initially, my breathing was very labored and I'd go through a bottle of air in no time flat," he remembered. "Guys in our department would tease me about how quickly I used my air." After reading articles and statistics on firefighter line-of-duty deaths and learning that many were caused by heart attacks due to poor physical condition and the extreme demands of firefighting, Michael knew he needed to start working to get healthy.

Weighing in at almost 220 lbs., Michael's goals were to lose the combined weight of his turnout gear and air pack (approximately 50 lbs.), to increase his muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness, and, most importantly, not to become another statistic. "I figured my family, the guys on our department, and the rural communities we serve deserved better than what I could physically bring to the table," he said. "I didn't want to join the list of fallen firefighters who died of heart failure when I can do something about it ahead of time."

Michael now watches what he eats, works out at the gym 3-5 times a week and hikes in the hills around his home, often with his family and their dogs. His new lifestyle has paid off; he lost 25 lbs. and continues working hard to reach his goal. "I feel better, I look better, and I am hopeful that the NVFC Heart-Healthy Firefighter program will help motivate me to finish my journey to better health, better living, enjoying life, and serving our communities through the fire service."