Feasting at the firehouse has meant so many different things throughout my career in the fire service. In the next few installments of “Hittin’ the Hot Spot”, I will recall some of my favorite stories about fighting firehouse famine. Before you get too excited, these stories are not going to provide you with any new recipes, rather the manner in which the food was acquired and devoured. I am sure there are more unique stories about food in the firehouse than there are firehouses, and I encourage you all to comment about some of your favorite memories about the people and procedures that helped feed the folks in your station.
My first stories come from 7507 Baltimore Blvd. in College Park, Maryland. PGFD Station 12 was my home away from home for 2 ½ years while I attended the University of Maryland. It was a unique situation for several reasons. First and foremost, it was a fire station. There was a career staff on duty during the day from Monday – Friday, but the house was staffed by volunteers the rest of the time. However, within those vollies were 12 people who actually lived at the fire station in what was called the “Sackroom”.
Although the Sackroom itself was our little oasis away from all the normal activity of the station, we all shared one kitchen on the main floor. Every live-in had a portion of a shelf in one of the three refrigerators, and one overhead cabinet. Although we trusted each other, you wrote your name on everything if you actually wanted to have it there when you were ready to eat it. Fortunately, there were alliances and partnerships that permitted sharing, but only if you had something of equal value to share. I remember mass quantities of fish sticks, spaghetti & meatballs, mac & cheese, and P. B. & J’s coming out of that kitchen; at least until grillin’ season. I never knew how many things could be grilled. I also realized that I wasn’t the only wacker who enjoyed pretending a good grease fire on the grill was like a mini structure fire. Nothing wrong with multi-tasking food prep with fire attach practical exercises, right? I only recall one instance where gear and SCBA was actually deployed, but the squirt bottle got a good workout.
The town had the usual college town temptations as well. I was particularly fond of Hungry Herman’s steak, egg and cheese hoagie, the Bagel Place’s breakfast sandwiches, and of course, the Domino’s Pizza joint, which was within eyesight of the apparatus ramp if you felt like peering through binoculars and watching your pizza get made. There was one delivery guy who drove a convertible Jeep who worked every minute that store was open, 7 days a week. He knew every corner of the campus and town, and never walked. He even ran the stairs, elevators took too long. I remember him telling me that he made $90,000 a year, and based on his hustle, I believe him. I briefly considered a career path adjustment.
Probably my greatest memory of all was the evening meals during work shifts. During the summer and over holiday breaks in the college calendar, the fire department would hire three or four vollies to staff the station after the career staff went off duty. Since most of the active members were college students, the house would get might lonely when everyone went home for the holidays. It was a pretty good deal, and the selection was usually a competition. Hang at the fire station AND get paid? Sign me up!
The shift started at 3:00 p.m., and we had three important tasks to complete at the start of each shift: equipment checks, spot cleaning tasks, and meal planning, but not always in that order. We would decide on the menu and post it on the chalkboard in the dayroom with a sign-up deadline time. By 3:30, we could expect phone calls from members trying to decide what they wanted to do for dinner. If our menu sounded good, they signed up.
With the afternoon tasks completed, the duty crew would check the sign-up list, and do an impromptu first-due target hazard familiarization of a local grocery store. Since we were running hot, we always tried to keep the store visit as brief as possible. Dividing the shopping list (usually by tearing it into portions) made the trip go very quickly. Back at the station, the preparations and calculations began. Barring any interruptions by the communication center, our timing was usually spot-on, and we collected cash (usually between 4 and 7 dollars, depending on the menu).
I remember occasionally having leftovers, but not very often. Either we were good planners or great eaters. Clean-up was always as smooth as the preparation. Everyone who ate helped clean up… it was the unwritten rule. With great teamwork, we could have everything cleaned up and put away in less than 10 minutes. Only then could we do dessert!