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Firefighters from across Kansas compete in calendar contest

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 28, 2013, at 11:26 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, June 28, 2013, at 11:54 p.m.

These calendar contestants are smokin’ hot.

Dozens of ladies squealed when 23-year-old Justin Kennel shoved aside curtains and took the stage, skin shining from oil and a firefighter’s helmet atop his head.

He shook his hips to country music star George Strait’s “The Fireman,” drawing grins and cheers from the crowd.

“I’d like to hear you ladies,” the firefighter from Liberal said. “Cheer me on. Let’s go!”

Fifteen firefighters from across the state showcased their bodies, minds and love of their work during the annual Kansas Firefighter Calendar judging event, held Friday night at the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview in downtown Wichita.

The fourth calendar – produced by the all-volunteers staff of the Kansas Firefighters Museum – will feature 13 of the night’s contestants chosen by a panel of local celebrities invited to judge the event.

Winners will be announced Monday. The contestants were all active, retired or volunteer Kansas firefighters, ranging in age from 23 to 55.

“It’s really special for us,” said Nancy Peters, a museum volunteer and coordinator for the calendar, which is the only one produced in Kansas.

A few hundred people attended.

“It’s exciting to see the interest grow,” she said.

Tables topped with firefighter boots, Life Savers candies and Atomic Fire Balls flanked an open banquet hall at the downtown Wichita hotel. Past calendar stars milled around, drumming up support for this year’s contestants, which includes 14 men and one woman.

Kelli Henson, a Ford County firefighter, told the crowd she decided to pursue firefighting after 13 years working as an emergency medical services medic.

She’s one of only a handful of women who’ve competed for a spot on any of the Kansas calendars.

“A lot of my family members had been firefighters in the past,” Henson told the audience. “After I got my medic, I decided I needed a new challenge.”

Todd Nix, a Sedgwick County firefighter, said his inspiration for firefighting was his uncle, retired Wichita fire Lt. Dave White.

“I used to wear his gear,” he said, “and go to the station.”

Bill Gibbs, also of Sedgwick County fire, joked that he joined to help himself get fit.

“I wanted to be a personal trainer, but the line for firefighter was shorter,” he said.

Each contestant answered questions about themselves, their families and their careers during a short interview portion of the event.

But the talent presentations – filled with shirtless, tanned torsos and laughing, dancing firefighters – drew the loudest cheers and pleas to “Take it off” from the crowd.

Chris Johnston, of the Pro-Tec Fire Department, earned enthusiastic applause when he began his catwalk strut. Within moments, he was perched on his palms and toetips, doing pushups as two women sat on his back.

Garden City firefighter Adam Patterson tossed strands of beads and red roses to the crowd.

Chanute Fire Department’s Brian Hull looked a little nervous as he started to dance to “Let’s Get it Started” by the Black Eyed Peas. Then he smiled wide and stripped his shirt off.

“They’re all so nervous,” Peters, the calendar coordinator said. “But they all get pretty creative.

“They’re doing great.”

Once complete, 2014 calendars will be available for $15 each at www.kansasfirefightercalendar.com and at participating Walgreens locations, Peters said.

Proceeds from the event and calendar sales benefit the Coats for Kids Project, which distributes winter apparel to children in need regardless of income; FIRE Camp, a free, daylong program for kids in grades six through nine; and future museum expansion.

“It’s a great organization,” Caney volunteer firefighter Mark Van Dyne – a former calendar star who competed again Friday – said of Coats for Kids. “Last year I took over 100 coats to my community. I didn’t know there was that kind of need.”

He added: “It touches my heart to help.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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