LifeSaver: Lexington’s Tim Boniface hopes to inspire four-alarm fitness
You know the face.
Lexington firefighter Tim Boniface has been smiling up at you from the newsstands, on the cover of Men’s Health magazine, for the past month. (Pronounce it bon-ah-FAH-chee, like it rhymes with Liberace.)
In person, at a scheduled afternoon of media meet ‘n greet at Firehouse Number 7, he enthusiastically introduces himself with a firm handshake (and the photographer’s hand immediately disappears inside his, toy-like).
“He’s a big ‘un,” a fellow firefighter jokes (in one of the more print-friendly episodes of firehouse teasing he has obviously grown accustomed to).
And he is: 6’3, 250 pounds, with 20-inch biceps — all the better to break down doors with if there’s a life threatening emergency on the other side.
He is out running an errand when the press begin to trickle into the firehouse on a recent unseasonably hot fall afternoon, prompting a slightly shorter, slightly older firefighter to introduce himself with, “Hey, I’m Tim…Sorry, the camera added a few pounds,” followed by a round of jokes about photoshop.
After the (real) introductions are made once Boniface arrives, the polite paparazzi and autograph seekers wander outside for photos, where a cyclist pedaling down Tates Creek nearly wipes out directly in front of the fire station, wobbling on a high speed jump from the sidewalk to the parking lot at the Lansdowne Shoppes. The assembly are visibly disappointed.
“I guess you wanted to actually watch me save a life?” he commisserates.
(He works as an EMT. “CPR matters,” he deadpans.)
Competition was stiff, but Tim Boniface is the official Ultimate Guy according to Men’s Health. According to the magazine, “this year’s cover contest drew 837 guys who embody selflessness, grit, and triumph. Their stories can inspire you to greatness.”
For their prospective Ultimate Guy cover, they sought out men who “define success on their own terms, give back to their communities, and express courage.”
Boniface was nominated by a friend in DC. He tells us he “filled out a bunch of info” online, and sent a few photos. Then he “forgot all about it until four months later [when] Men’s Health called.”
(Other runners-up profiled in the cover contest include a Colorado SWAT team officer and an Iraqi war veteran who lives in Maryland.)
Saving lives is a relatively new career for him.
He’d wanted to be a firefighter “since the age of 6 and my first field trip to a fire station.” But life intervened, and he was working in the financial industry in DC when 9/11 happened. He lost two friends who worked in the twin towers in NYC.
Suddenly no longer satisfied with his well-paid, but less than fulfilling, career, it was a life check for him. He wanted to get back to his original plan, to “Live a life of true humanity and helping others” (even if it meant a substantial pay cut).
When he applied to be a Lexington firefighter, he says he was up against 1200 candidates from all over the country, many of whom were already firefighters. He was “just a banking and finance guy.”
Why Lexington? He was attracted to the “good cost of living” here. He laughs about adjustments between the big city and life here. He says, “the big difference between here and NYC is the traffic. I laugh when people say they hate the traffic. Try DC or New York! You’d never survive!”
Men’s Health reports, “of the estimated 1,141,000 U.S. firefighters, 786,000 are volunteers, so competition for full-time jobs is intense. That’s where Boniface’s meatballs come in.”
He obviously didn’t end up on the cover of a health magazine by overindulging, but he admits his culinary skills might have tipped the scales in his favor. “My interview went awesome and I finally told them I was a chef and cooked well. Also at the end, I told them you might as well hire me because if not I’ll be back next year and then again until you do. They had already seen me three times for the interview process so they knew I wasn’t playing.”
Battalion chief and public information officer Joe Best says, “the hiring process lasts nearly a year and consists of a written test, a physical agility test and numerous other hurdles like an oral interview and a background check. Tim was probably qualified in his other attempt but got edged out by a tenth of a point somewhere. We’re glad he stuck with it and tried again though. It’s quite a bonus knowing the Ultimate Guy works for your home town fire department!”
The magazine printed his (no longer) supersecret meatballs recipe (it starts with veal, chuck, and hot Italian sausage and ends with a white wine braise). His favorite dish to prepare is penne with vodka sauce with his famous meatballs. His favorite guilty pleasures are a Godfather’s pizza or Bru burger, with “my own cheesecake.” (One of the Lexington fire chiefs wants meatballs and cheesecake every shift.)
Firehouses are famous for their culinary culture, and he says, “A lot of guys are amazing chefs! We throw down at the fire station. We all love to eat but gotta balance it with exercise and eating right most of the time.”
Lifesaving can be hazardous to your health. That was the inspiration behind what prompted him to tell his story in Men’s Health, a magazine he’d been reading since his teen years. “Most people don’t know that cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death for firefighters,” he explains.
He hopes sharing his lifestyle — with four alarm fitness at the forefront — inspires fellow firefighters across the country to “stay in shape, eat clean, and have a long and healthy career.” He says he can see some guys packing their lunch now, and some of Lexington’s fire chiefs work out at the same gym he goes to.
Chief Best has nothing but good things to say about Boniface’s moment in the spotlight. He says, “We’ve had a ton of support from Lexington and from other fire departments from around the country. It’s been great to see all the support for Tim.”
It doesn’t come without the price of good-natured (if merciless) teasing. Best recalls, “Tim had to fly to New York to receive the news about the cover. While there, he caught a cold. By the time he returned to Lexington, he was in no condition to come to work. He called in sick on what would have been his first day back after receiving the big news. Needless to say, the ‘Ultimate Guy’ took a lot of ribbing for letting the sniffles get him down.”
(The life he saves must be his own.)
With four years under his belt at the Lexington Fire Department, he hasn’t looked back.
He talks about the moments that reinforce for him how precious life is. “Every day I work I’m reminded. When you save a life or help someone or get that thank you from grandma who has no one else looking after her and you show up to pick her up off the floor when she fell.” He still describes it as the “best job in the world.”
He also prefers a career that brings with it an adrenaline rush. “Beats sitting at a desk in an office any day!” he says.
What would he do if he wasn’t a firefighter?
“Definitely a badass action hero! Watch out Dwayne Johnson I’m going for ya! That, or a competition eater.”
He’s a good sport about his 15 minutes of fame and current celebrity. He told Willie Geist on the Today Show “my voice is hoarse from screaming,” as they’d just come inside from a Selena Gomez performance on the plaza. Next stop, Dancing with the Stars? Plausible. For a big guy, he’s light on his feet (and was an avid dancer when he lived in NYC, including flamenco).
More likely: “Lexington firehouse cookbook coming soon via yours truly!”
(Maybe he’s kidding. Maybe he’s not.)
This article originally appears on pages 6-7 of the November 2015 issue of Ace.
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