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Local firefighter posing for all the right reasons

POULSBO — When George Epperly goes to his job as a Poulsbo Fire Department firefighter, he expects to work hard and protect the public from the very real danger of fire. But in his free time, he’s practicing his pouting and posing for another worthy cause — the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters Burn Foundation’s 2008 calendar.

All proceeds from the calendar go toward helping burn victims of all ages, allowing them to attend special camps and events. Every January, the foundation sends out a request for any and all interested firefighters to apply to appear in the calendar. Epperly filled out his form in 2006, and was selected for the 2007 calendar as well.

“We narrow the field down to 40, and they attend a judging event in May,” said foundation Executive Director Rod Heivilin. “In order to get to the judging, they have to demonstrate a willingness to donate a lot of time... Once they get to the judging, it’s based on personality and looks. Personality was George’s strongest suit. George is the kind of person who can converse comfortably with anyone, from 18 to 81. He’s just a delight to be around.”

Epperly said he originally felt it would be a good fitness challenge, and he was surprised the first time he was chosen for the honor. After participating once, he wanted to do it again because observing the inner workings of the burn foundation was rewarding, and helping children was a strong motivation to continue.

“Last year, we went to Camp Phoenix and we got to meet with these kids who were not only from across the country but from across the world,” Epperly said. “We got to sit down and meet with these kids, some of whom are pretty severely burned, who most of the time in school are looked at funny or shunned. At camp, they are all the same and they can just be kids. For whatever reason they are comfortable around firefighters, too. I met a couple of kids, and their stories are just heartbreaking, but it also swells your heart.”

He said his own two children are supportive of his decision to participate in the calendar, which involves about 70 to 80 personal appearances and 300 hours of volunteer time of the 23 firefighters involved. His son, who had returned from serving in the Army the same day as his first judging, showed up with a buddy and cheered him on from the sidelines. Epperly said his daughter has also attended events, sometimes with friends, to show her support and see the other firefighters.

At 51, he is the oldest of the bunch, but Epperly is far from letting the younger crowd outshine him. He said meeting the other firefighters from across the state is also a large part of the fun.

“In the calendar, we don’t let people come back unless they do a great job,” Heivilin said. “He was just dazzled by the whole process.”

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