The firefighter is sitting at the dining table, a huge box of donuts just inches from his grasp.
But the scene here on a recent morning in the chow room at Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Station 8 isn’t what it seems.
The firefighter, Dave Verdecia, cops to eating part of a donut, but he usually avoids the calorie- and fat-laden sugar bombs.
Chocolate, however, is another story. Bring some around him, and good luck keeping it out of his hands.
Verdecia, a firefighter engineer and paramedic, is talking about nutrition for a reason.
A couple of months ago, he underwent a regular fitness evaluation — something all AF&R personnel do every year.
At age 61, Verdecia is the oldest active firefighter in the agency.
And, astonishingly, he’s also among the fittest.
Based on his fitness evaluation in September 2017, in which he used the treadmill, had his body fat measured, did sit ups and push ups, lifted weights and struck the “planking” pose, among other things, Verdecia was deemed to have a physiological age of 24.
Yes, the body of someone 37 years his junior.
“That’s beyond unbelievable,” says Station 8 Capt. Chris Valente. “Dave has managed to single-handedly set the bar for physical fitness in our department to new heights.”
Says Verdecia about his legendary status as the Jack LaLanne of AF&R: “I’m not (into fitness) to get pumped up and look studly. I’m in it to stay in shape.”
In shape, he is.
Verdecia, who is 5 feet 9 inches and weighs 155, can do an 8-minute “plank” pose.
He used to be a runner but took up road biking seven years ago after developing arthritis in a hip.
Now, every week, he tries to get in 100-plus miles on his specialized, carbon fiber S-Works road bicycle.
“I want to get up to between 150 and 200 miles per week,” says Verdecia, who has a new beautiful wife, three grown children and seven grandchildren — all age 4 or younger.
And all probably nowhere the shape he’s in.
“I don’t think of myself as a grandfather,” says Verdecia, who says he inherited his good genes from his young-looking mother, who is 88.
Verdecia bikes to work and belongs to four different bike clubs to make sure he has options of joining organized rides when he gets off work.
He has completed one triathlon.
Valente walks by the chow room table and sees Verdecia.
“He’s a stud,” the captain says.
With its own Fitness and Wellness Committee, Anaheim Fire & Rescue has put an increased emphasis in recent years on keeping its personnel as fit as possible. The committee, for example, makes sure stations are equipped with adequate workout equipment.
Strength, endurance and flexibility are critical for fire service personnel to carry out their demanding jobs successfully.
“Anaheim Fire & Rescue has come a long way in its desire to increase physical fitness among its members,” Valente said.
On previous fitness evaluations, Verdecia was deemed to have the body of a 28 year old.
“So, I guess I’m getting younger,” he says with a laugh. “I may be in shape, but at my age, my body is screaming constantly. I have aches and pains all the time.”
That’s why he’s a huge proponent of stretching.
“Flexibility, I think, is one of the keys (to staying fit), as well as doing everything in moderation and balance,” Verdecia says. “If you have part of a donut, for example, you may want to balance it with vegetables.
“The most important thing, in whatever exercise routine you choose, is consistency.”
Before he had that portion of a donut on a recent morning, Verdecia did his usual 20-minute stretching routine and 60 pushups. Then he ate egg whites, spinach and a little meat.
Then it was off to hit the weights and the elliptical machine in Station 8’s fitness room, which is inside The Moreta Building — informally named after the firefighter (James Moreta) who spends hours tending to Type 6 wildland fire engines parked next to the gym equipment.
Verdecia, who was born in Cuba (a couple of years before Fidel Castro came into power) but whose family came to the U.S. when he was 2, wasn’t always a fitness freak.
He says he actually was chubby until junior high school, when he started playing football.
While playing football at Magnolia High School in Anaheim (he grew up in neighboring Stanton), Verdecia actually beefed up to 185 pounds.
He earned a degree in physical fitness from Cal State Fullerton and worked several different jobs before deciding on a career in the fire service.
When he was in his mid-20s, Verdecia was interested in becoming a pilot, thanks to a family friend who was a captain at the City of Orange Fire Department. That captain would take Verdecia up and, at times, put him behind the controls.
That captain later encouraged Verdecia to pursue firefighting after Verdecia planned to join the Marines. Those plans were scuttled when Verdecia realized he would be too old (past 27.5 years) by the time he would graduate from Officer Candidate School.
So he settled on becoming a firefighter.
“I wanted to have a job that would keep me physically fit,” says Verdecia.
No surprise there.
He took some fire science classes at Santa Ana College (where he now teaches part time) before going through the fire academy.
He worked as a reserve firefighter in Huntington Beach for two years, and then as a firefighter at the now-closed Long Beach Naval Station fire department for two years, before he joined AF&R.
His last full-time job before Long Beach Naval and AF&R hired him in 1986 was assistant manager of, irony of ironies, a pie- and comfort food-focused Marie Callender’s restaurant.
Verdecia spent most of his career (14 years) at AF&R Station 6 and has been assigned to Station 8 for the last three.
In addition to giving his muscles a regular workout, Verdecia also works out his vocal chords. A tenor, he has sung the national anthem at Angel Stadium a half-dozen times and at the Honda Center twice.
He used to sing at weddings and has, over the years, sung at the weddings of his fellow firefighters.
Verdecia will retire this year, in either October or July.
But he’ll never retire from working out.
“I could actually be in better shape if I didn’t love chocolate so much,” says Verdecia.
“Chocolate is my nemesis.”
Dave, LOL, you’re not alone.