Hot, homestyle meals for the firehouse family

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Firefighters work 24-hour shifts. They train together, sleep in a dormitory and watch each other's back during a fire. They're as close as a family unit, so it follows that they eat dinner together.

Firefighters at stations in Jackson and Cape Girardeau seem to like a home-cooked meal.

There's no designated firehouse cook, but some of the men like to cook more than the others. The others do their part by cleaning up afterward.

In Cape Girardeau, Capt. Dean Lynn floats among the four stations depending on where he is needed, but he takes charge in any of the stations' kitchens. Sometimes dinner is as simple as putting some vegetables with a leftover main dish someone has brought from home. Other times, Lynn is a little more creative.

"I do regular country cooking," he said. "Nothing special. I don't go by any recipe. Maybe the younger guys will try out a new recipe. I cook what people eat every day."

Battalion chief Bob Kembel said that Lynn's chicken and dressing and chicken and dumplings are his favorites.

Lynn says his secret is to season things heavily. "A few like the cornbread dressing I make sometimes. I think they like the way I season the food."

Entrees for the three-to-five-person shifts at the fire station may include spaghetti, lasagna, kettle beef, and meatloaf. And lots of potatoes, Lynn said. Firefighters often bring vegetables from their gardens at home to share.

Drop by at Jackson's fire station, and there might be spaghetti and lasagna on the table, but it's more likely to be pork chops, hamburgers or steaks.

Rob Greif cooks for the Jackson firefighters and EMTs with the Cape Girardeau County private ambulance service when he's on duty. He grills about two-thirds of the meals. Grilling became a necessity after a tornado hit Jackson's fire station in May 2003. The firefighters had to move their headquarters to the city administration building while their fire station was being rebuilt, and the assistant chief bought a gas grill for the men to use. Grilling was the easiest way to cook their meals without a real kitchen.

"We got accustomed to grilling steaks, pork chops, corn on the cob," Greif said. They even bake potatoes on the grill.

"We really enjoy that type of food so we started doing it all the time," he said.

One of the amenities of the rebuilt station is a garden where the firefighters grow their own vegetables. Everyone pulls weeds and tends the growing vegetables, Greif said. This summer they have grown green beans, okra, corn, yellow and acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, and three varieties of regular tomatoes.

"We've had a lot of fried green tomatoes here," Greif said.

He only learned to cook after he began working for the Jackson Fire Department three years ago. Like Lynn, he doesn't follow recipes. Greif said his wife is a great cook, and she does most of the family cooking.

Lynn in Cape Girardeau also cooks for local organizations. A single father, he cooks at home.

Cooking for health

The firefighters in both communities are careful about their health. All follow an exercise and stress regimen, but they don't follow any particular diet. One Jackson firefighter is following the South Beach diet, but the high-protein, low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet is pretty much how they all eat anyway.

The kitchens in fire stations are like any family kitchen. Cape Girardeau and Jackson have outfitted the kitchens with stove, refrigerator, cooking utensils, microwave and Crock- Pots. The firefighters pay for their own food, which in Jackson works out to about $4 a meal. In Cape Girardeau, firefighters buy groceries only when no one brought anything from home to share.

During holidays, Lynn said many firefighters invite their families over to the fire station. If they can't have a holiday dinner at home, they bring their families and the holiday to the station.

"I think a lot of people like the idea of eating together," Lynn said. "It's that camaraderie, sitting down together like a family and really talking to each other. It makes for better communication."

336-6611, extension 160

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