JEFF TIEDEMAN: Sound the alarmFirefighters do things differently these days, including cooking.
When was the last time you visited a fire station?
For me, it was just a couple of weeks ago, and you know what? Things sure have changed since I was a kid.
I remember going with my dad down to the old firehouse in Crookston and getting a tour. It was really a lot of fun. Besides being able to climb up on the fire trucks, I also got to slide down the fire pole — just like you see firemen doing in the old movies.
But much to my surprise, Station 1 at 1124 DeMers Ave. in Grand Forks doesn’t have a fire pole. My guide, Captain Mike Sandry, said none of the four stations in town have fire poles, unlike the old firehouse downtown that did. He said that’s the first thing kids ask about on a tour. (Grand Forks’ stations are one-story, with sleeping quarters on the same level as the fire trucks.)
That’s not the only difference. Mike, whose son and my grandson played baseball together this past summer, pointed out a few more things that left me scratching my head.
One change is the individual dorm rooms that firefighters have. In the old days, they used to share one large area where, they each had only a bed.
Another is an up-to-date fitness room, complete with a recumbent bike, cross trainer, treadmill and universal weight machine. Mike said that despite the belief by many people that fire is the No. 1 killer of firefighters, it is heart attacks that claims more lives.
Hence, there’s an increased emphasis on fitness, which brings me to food.
Traditionally, cooking and firefighting has been synonymous, since firefighters work long shifts and can’t leave the fire station to eat.
That’s the way it is locally. Firefighters here average about 53 hours a week. They usually work three shifts of 24 on and 24 off, which are followed by a four-day break. With that kind of schedule, there’s plenty of cooking going on in the station’s spacious kitchen. And these days, it’s healthier cooking.
Battalion Chief Rob Corbett said 20 years ago, it was a lot of meat, potatoes and gravy, but that’s changed. “Now, it’s once every three to four months,” he said.
To underscore the different mind-set, the day I visited the station the main course for supper was going to be grilled chicken salad. And for lunch, firefighter Rod Freitag was preparing tuna salad for sandwiches for him and a co-worker, using yogurt instead of mayonnaise or Miracle Whip.
The firefighters said they go for lighter meals during the warmer summer months because if you get a call, you don’t want to feel uncomfortable.
Mike said the five- to seven-member crew usually eats supper together. A favorite of theirs is ribs and spaghetti — “made by a few different guys. It’s not the traditional pasta sauce. It has a brown sugar base.”
On holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, Mike said a couple of the stations usually get together for a big meal of either turkey or prime rib.
But before you get all bent out shape about the bill firefighters are ringing up for the city, let it be known that they pay for all their own food, which affirms the old adage that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
And the public service they provide is a bargain, too.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.