Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Firehouse Famine - Part 3

Feasting at the firehouse has meant so many different things throughout my career in the fire service.  In this installment of “Hittin’ the Hot Spot”, I will recall the third of three stories about fighting firehouse famine.  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. 
The new Central Fire Station of the TSVFD boasts a full residential kitchen, and occasionally the appliances get used to create entire meals for groups of 2 to 50.  The common gathering consists of about 8 people, career, volunteer and support members alike who pool their funds together and turn a grocery run into a “home-cooked” meal.  In the warmer weather, Grill 85 is often the appliance of choice for cooking up chicken, burgers, and dogs for a main course.  Cooler or rainy weather usually forces the menu to something pasta based, or stovetop/oven cooking. 

For a while, there was a breakfast program that grew into a local gathering of neighboring fire, police, EMS, and family members on Fridays.  The food was both yummy and scary.  Kinda like sausages, you really shouldn’t watch how it is made.  That is all I am going to say about the quality and healthfulness of these delicious meals.  The last time I questioned something this “chef” was a part of it started a snowball of political bullshit that ultimately led to my premature departure from the ranks, but I digress…

The most fascinating meal related occurrence at the 85 House involves ordering take-out.  We are blessed to be in a region that is full of great food choices.  We have multiple steakhouses, sub shops, fast food, pizzerias, restaurants, and Chinese options.  In fact, one of the kitchen drawers contains an organizer of local menus, sorted by category, and a folder full of (mostly expired) coupons for deals.  This leads to the biggest problem… decisions, decisions, and decisions.

I swear, if we were this decisive on the emergency scene, lives and property would be lost.  So many factors go into the decision of WHERE to get food; delivery or pick-up, what we had yesterday or earlier today, how much time do we have, how much money do we have, how hungry are we.  On more than one occasion, I nearly starved to death waiting for the decision to be made; and often resorted to pulling rank and turning the dining democracy into a command decision.  One time, I left, got something to eat on my own, returned, and the menus were still lying on the counter as the crew mulled over their options.  

Once the “where” choice has been made, each individual must choose the “what” from the menu.  Most guys have a favorite dish from each locale and this part goes quickly.  But some people, who shall remain nameless, have commitment issues, and it takes them
f o r e v e r  to decide.  Then there is the challenge of assuring everyone in the place has a chance to get in on the order.  The building is spread out, with lots of places to be isolated.  Usually an announcement over the PA system clears the “orderer” from any erros of omission.  A list gets generated, and someone gets designated to “make the call”.  This is a position of great responsibility, as there are often questions about the orders that this individual must be ballsy enough to answer on behalf of the individual diners.  

Now it is time for financing the mission.  Normally the counter looks like the kitty of a high-stakes poker game as everyone antes-up.  Occasionally there are deals struck like pro sports draft days (can you spot me, and I will pay you later), or payback times (You already owe me from yesterday).  The poor slob gathering the money must keep an accurate account of the money, lest he be chastised throughout the meal.  Of course, NO ONE ever has exact change.  This can benefit the runner if the participants feel generous and “round up”, or cause bewilderment if everyone cheaps-out on the tax or up-charges for extra items.   

Finally the order is placed, the money is compiled, and someone walks in saying, “what are we getting for dinner?”  This is where things get tricky.  If the guy is a douche (every house has a few), we usually tell him a little white lie like, “we already ate”, and so he goes off to get his own meal.  If the meal organizer is feeling generous (or if he thinks the kitty is slightly underfunded) he can often work a deal to let the newcomer get in on the order in exchange for becoming the designated runner.  Late arriving regulars to the process are often invited to participate; “We just ordered food, you want in?”  

"Food's Here!" announced over the station PA brings the sharks to the day room.  These moments are sometimes stressful, as everyone sorts through the bags of goodies, looking for their grub. The runner and caller keep their fingers crossed that the order is complete and accurate, and sigh with relief once everyone has found their food.  Except for that one guy sitting at the counter looking like a lost puppy, everyone is happily munching away.  When did he arrive?  Did we forget to ask him?  
No matter what the intent of the participants, someone gets left out, forgotten, ignored, or overlooked.  It is not usually intentional, but it is uncomfortable just the same.  That’s when karma strikes in the form of a dispatch.  “Ha, bitches, now you food will be cold and soggy when we come back!  It serves you right for being so indecisive and thoughtless!”  

Group clean-up usually goes very quickly, then there is nothing left to do but wait for Mr. Softee to bring us cold, sweet desserts!


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