Three years ago, on July 3, 2012, I stood in my parent’s kitchen making treats for the day ahead, when I suddenly noticed that I smelled the distinct acrid smell of smoke. Confused, I went from room to room in my parent’s home, checking for a knocked over candle, or flame to claim the stench. It dawned on me that there was far too much commotion outside (considering it was nearly 11:30pm) when it occurred to me that the smell of smoke was not inside the house but outside. Quickly I ran outside, making my way two doors down, where my neighbor’s home was set aflame.
Freshly lit, the flames climbed nearly fifty feet in the air, and the fire trucks had not yet entered the scene. As everyone scrambled for something to do, I watched in awe as the front door of the home was thrown open and the elderly neighbor was escorted out by a short man that I’ve known for several years. The man happened to share a backyard with the woman and was closing up his home for the night, when he saw the flames licking at his back wall. That same man, a fire captain for San Diego County, jumped his fence clad in shorts and bare feet, broke through the woman’s back door, found her, and escorted her to safety.
If this sounds like something out of a fictional tale, one filled with knights in shining armor and princes—well then you’d be right. For my parent’s neighbor, Pat, heroism is something that occasionally comes with the job—along with life threatening emergencies. Luckily, Pat happened to be in tip-top shape to run barefoot through a burning home, something that all firefighters are required to be, on and off the job. And like all other firehouses, Pat keeps a firm eye on the sustenance of his crews.
The average firefighter during its “on” season can be expected to consume upwards of 5,000 calories a day. This caloric intake is meant to keep a firefighter’s stamina in peak condition and their bodies operating at their full potential. Firefighters that don’t keep their body’s energy level up can quickly lose muscle mass and body weight. During busy fire seasons (such as California’s summers) and a malnourished body can lead to an impaired immune system, which in turn leads to illness. In short, firefighters, wanting to operate at their optimal level of strength, cannot afford the detriments that follow by losing too much weight.
This, intertwined with the idea that firefighters are responsible for their own cooking, has lead to influx in the way the food is prepared for firefighters. Hearty, muscle friendly, and home-cooked, firefighters work each day in the kitchen to bring their friends wholesome meals. In recent years, firefighter cooking has become such a known commodity that there are television competitions now devoted to finding out who the best firefighting cook is. Firefighters take their health and diet seriously, and so for those looking to break into the biz it’s important to realize that there are some unspoken rules to follow:
- Be Prepared To Drop: Dropping what you’re doing, including cooking, is an important aspect of living in a firehouse. Make dishes that won’t spoil too badly if the time comes and you must leave the meal mid-preparation. Making something that can be picked up where it’s left off not only will save money, but time when you all come back from a call and are ravenously searching for food.
- Ask About Food Allergies: With the passing years, food allergies seem to have become a hot item of discussion. No longer are people allergic to the simple things in life, such as peanuts or avocado (guilty), but now alongside all of those allergies are things such as dairy and gluten. Be courteous to your fellow firefighters and ensure that all can enjoy your meal.
- Don’t Experiment: There’s a time and place to try out that complicated new recipe you’ve just been dying to get your hands on: in the midst of a dozen or more hungry firefighters is not that time. Stick to the food you do know and know well. Don’t use your fellow firefighters as test subjects, they won’t appreciate it and when a fire breaks out and hungry men and women surround you, neither will you.
- Help Out: Who cares if it’s not your night in the kitchen, helping out is a way of showing your appreciation for the men and women cooking around you. Besides, spending time in the kitchen will help you become a better cook, and will give you an insiders knowledge of what your fellow firefighters like and dislike when it comes time to enjoy their meals.
Firefighting is a team effort, and as such the men and women who work to protect our country work as a team in the kitchen to provide for one another. Had Pat not been up to it, who knows what might have happened to our neighbor. As the reports claim, the damage to her home was upwards of $100,000, and the damage was catastrophic. Lucky for us and the people of San Diego County, Pat is a brave man, with a full stomach, a body full of energy, and some incredibly padded heels.