Firehouse Meals Ordinary but Interrupted

APRIL 3, 2002

By Star Traylor
The Winchester Star

The kitchen inside Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company where the firefighters prepare their meals is cleaner than a civilian might think.

In truth, it’s probably better kept than the kitchens in most American households.

Cleaning up the kitchen is just one of the chores everyone at the station helps with daily.

The station only has one “live-in” firefighter right now, but both paid and volunteer firefighters have meals at the station on a regular basis.

Firefighters are just like everyone else when it comes to eating, said Steve Hoover, a past chief and life member of Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.

They make hamburgers, potatoes, and other popular home-cooked foods, or they get something from one of the restaurants nearby and bring it back to the station.

In terms of appliances, the kitchen at Shawnee has all the basic necessities — a refrigerator, toaster oven, microwave. Two snack machines with foods representing all the major junk food groups on a typical person’s list of favorites sit in the dining area.

While firefighters eat like everyone else, Hoover said, there is one thing that sets them apart when it comes to their eating habits. “(When) an alarm comes in, the food stays; we go,” he said.

Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company serves the south side of Winchester first and assists other fire and rescue companies in the city with fires in their areas. There are 22 volunteer firefighters at the station and about 12 paid staff members. Shawnee firefighters responded to a total of 132 calls last month.

It takes anywhere from a half an hour to two hours for firefighters to respond and come back from most fire calls, but, Hoover said, “We’ve had calls where we’re out all night.”

Fighting fires is the kind of active duty that undoubtedly stirs up an appetite. At Shawnee, firefighters often enjoy hearty meals made with venison (deer meat).

“Most of us that are here are deer hunters,” said Kevin Duckwall, a career firefighter and paramedic, who’s been with the city for 12 years.

There are currently no vegetarians at Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company and Duckwall said there are all sorts of variations to be made with deer meat like venison burgers and venison steaks. Venison can be used in many of the same recipes as beef.

For about 15 years, Hoover prepared an annual harvest breakfast each fall. Using meat from his grandparent’s farm in Stephenson, he cooked a breakfast with eggs, pancakes, sausage, scrapple, bacon, and toast for all the firefighters at the station.

At South End Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, firefighters often go to the grocery store to purchase ingredients for “a large meal that’s easy to make for a lot of people and quick,” said career firefighter and paramedic Rick Funkhouser.

Career firefighters work 24-hour shifts and are allowed to go out for one meal. The other meal must be eaten at the station. Most eat a breakfast meal before arriving at work.

One thing most firefighters don’t have to worry too much about is putting on a lot of weight. Career firefighters are required to work out daily and at South End they have a weight room, which was paid for with money raised by the volunteer firefighters, where they lift weights. Additionally, career and volunteer firefighters use the track at Handley High School.

South End career firefighter and shock trauma EMT Jay Ritchie cooked a spaghetti dinner for 13 last Saturday, but said it’s unusual to have that many people at the station at once.

When a large meal is prepared, everyone helps pay for the cost of supplies. “Everybody chips in,” Ritchie said. “Like the other day (when he made the spaghetti dinner) it was like $2 a person.”

Many of South End’s volunteers are career firefighters with companies in northern Virginia. Since it’s uncommon for more than five people to be on duty at South End at once, larger meals are often prepared on the weekend, when there’s more time for everyone to get together.

“Usually whoever does not cook does the dishes,” said Funkhouser.