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On TV and in the movies, heroes are often distinguished by what they wear.

In the 2002 Firefighter Calendar, however, many of the featured real-life heroes are distinguished by what they are not wearing.

This year, that includes Federal Way resident — and calendar cover boy — Mike Duncan.

Duncan, a firefighter in the Burien Fire Department, was picked to pose for the calendar, in part, because of his long commitment to public service and charities that support burn victims — as the calendar does.

But his bulging biceps, sculpted pectorals and rugged handsomeness played a part as well

Duncan, a bachelor and Federal Way homeowner, says he did not get involved with the calendar for an ego trip. In fact, he was practically dragged into it, he says.

After years of being encouraged by his friends, he decided to pose after hearing about the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters Burn Foundation.

“I finally tried out, saying, ‘Hey what the heck?’”

Duncan had previously been involved as a volunteer working with burn victims at a camp supported by a separate charity for burn victims.

“The first year you go, you wonder how you'll handle it seeing all the kids with scars,” he said. But he said the experience of working with the youngsters was priceless. It prompted him to later volunteer in the Harborview Medical Center Emergency Room.

He hasn’t looked back yet.

He says his experience as a calendar model has been a pleasure — though it has had its moments.

After his picture was first taken about a year ago — one with his shirt on, the other topless — the portraits were shown to women throughout the Northwest for eight months before a semifinal event narrowed the field of calendar contenders.

“Your pictures kind of get stapled to your application. It’s not just on your résumé anymore,” Duncan said.

Northwest celebrities and high bidders in charity auctions help make the final calendar selections.

“People really donate a lot of money. We have done a couple of auctions already this year,” he said. “People have donated like $5,000 to be part of the judging.”

But all of that money goes to a good cause, says Rod Heivilin, a Shoreline Fire Department lieutenant and founder of the Washington State Council of Firefighters Burn Foundation.

Firefighters who volunteer operate the council, and there is no hired staff and little overhead. Virtually all money gathered goes toward burn research, usually within hospitals, and for public education, Heivilin said.

Heivilin, still president of the foundation, started the organization in 1987 and first produced a firefighter poster seven years ago.

“We printed 5,000 of them and found we ran out really quickly so we printed more,” he said.

The annual project grew into a calendar, which took on a life of its own. But recent sales have been beyond comparison, he said.

“This year has just gone ballistic, due in part to the New York thing,” he said, referring the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the heroic firefighters who attempted to save victims in and around the World Trade Center site.

Presently, the calendar sales are 50 percent more than predicted, Heivilin said.

Interest in posing for the calendar also has been piqued, he said.

“I’m already working on the 2003. There are about 100 firefighters trying to get on that calendar.

“But I won’t even start that until January. I’ve got to do some honing down before we get to actual to the judging event,” he said.

Because the finished calendar looks professionally done, Heivilin said he’s encountered some inquisitive people.

“One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “Are they really models?”

Nope.

In fact, not even volunteer firefighters are eligible to be in the calendar. Only members of International Association of Fire Fighters can apply and be accepted.

So far, there have been no complaints from the photographed firefighters, such as Duncan — even though he sacrifices his weekend time to sign autographs throughout the region.

“I know where the money is going to go to help people,” Duncan said. “It’s truly just a good feeling to go out there. You get to meet a lot of great people.”

“It’s going to be a year I’ll never forget for many reasons.”

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