Local firefighters and police officers are taking part in the “Lose It With The Y” fitness program at local YMCAs, with the goal of improving fitness and reducing overexertion-related deaths that are common while on-duty.

Roger Audette, fire chief of the Augusta Fire Department, said that the Central Maine Fire Chief’s Association is trying to promote wellness and physical fitness among firefighters and police officers.

“Our job is very physically demanding,” Audette said. “Most of the fire departments may not have physical fitness equipment in their fire station. This is trying to promote a healthy lifestyle off duty.”

While the program sounds like it is about losing weight, Audette said it is trying to teach participants about a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

“They talk about dietary counseling and nutrition,” Audette said. “It’s not just about losing weight, it’s about balance.”

Audette also said that heart attacks are the leading cause of death among on-duty firefighters. According to U.S. Fire Administration data, between the years 2000 and 2013, more than 1,800 firefighters have died while on-duty in the United States. Of those deaths, 663 were listed as heart attacks.

The latest on-scene firefighter death in Maine came in June 2014, when Portland Fire Department Capt. Michael Kucsma had a heart attack while scuba diving on duty in Casco Bay.

Dotta Hinckley, a safety officer at the Pittston Fire Department, said that fitness is essential for being a firefighter.

“The call goes off and you don’t have any time to warm up or stretch out. You just go to the call,” Hinckley said. “So staying fit is an important part of being a firefighter.”

Hinckley said that Pittston volunteer firefighters go through training twice a month, but that training does not specifically include personal fitness.

“Some of our firefighter training is physical,” Hinckley said. “This is more geared to your personal self, while that training is for skills for the fire department.”

Hinckley has participated in the “Lose It With The Y” program before, but not as a member of the fire department.

“It was a great program,” Hinckley said. “You get use of the YMCA, support of your team, it’s just a great program.”

Craig Cameron, the healthy living director at Kennebec Valley YMCA, created the program five years ago. Cameron says that this program is unique because it requires teamwork, self-discipline and hard work from its participants.

Each participating team of four people receives 1 1/2 hours of training per week with their assigned trainer. Workouts include agility ladders, tire flipping and circuit training.

“It started out with two teams of four people, and round 11 will have 104 people,” Cameron said. “In five years, the program has contributed over 1,500 pounds of weight loss.”