Food and Firehouses: A Look At What’s Cookin’ at Engine 27 in Clairemont

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From Firehouse 27: Fireman Ron Friel, Probationary Firefighter Corey Teng and Captain Mike Pugh. Photos by Michael Baehr

Now that summer is in full swing, the sweltering heat is an obvious reminder of the fire dangers in and around the canyons of Clairemont.  This makes me think about our firefighters and their dedication to keeping us safe and I had this idea of learning about how food plays a role in the lives of these fearless men and women.  For this month’s story, I arranged to meet the team at Clairemont’s Engine Company 27 during their lunch to learn more about what they do and how food plays a role in their work.

Clairemont Firehouse 27 at 5064 Clairemont Drive, San Diego, CA 92117
Clairemont Firehouse 27 at 5064 Clairemont Drive, San Diego, CA 92117

At this firehouse, there are three teams (A, B and C) of four people who rotate on 24-hour shifts.  On this particular day, I had the opportunity to meet with the “C-team” which consists of two firemen, one fireman/paramedic and one probationary fireman.  These guys are seasoned firefighters with nearly 50 years of service between them, with the exception of the probationary “new guy” who has completed six months of his 12-month training.

A surprising fact to this Chowhound is that firemen pay for their own food from a shared pool of personal funds.  Each firefighter contributes $10 for their shift.  That’s $40 to feed four people over a 24-hour period.  I’ve always thought that a firefighter’s food was paid by city funds—not the case.  In fact, I learned that most firemen become so skilled at food budgeting that they even assume the shopping duties when they’re at home during off hours.  “We’ve been doing this for so long that we know when we see a good deal at the grocery store,” the C-team explained.

“We all shop every day, usually before noon,” said Captain Mike Pugh.  “We start our day with exercises in one of the local parks, then we shop before noon because lunch is the first meal of our shift.  This is why people usually see us in the grocery stores around 11 am every day.”

Popular dishes at the firehouse include pasta, soups, stews, barbecue and sandwiches.  As part of their wellness program, the firefighters exercise regularly and strive to eat as healthy as possible.  During my visit, a large bowl of grapes sat in the center of the table rather than chips, cookies or something less healthy.

“We’re really creative when it comes to cooking and using leftovers,” the team explained.  “We try to cook meals that we can stretch to the next day.  For example, when we make spaghetti and meatballs, we always make a few extra meatballs for sandwiches the next day.  Or we might have what we call ‘refrigerator soup’ with all the leftover vegetables from our shift.  You’d be surprised how good some of these soups can be.”

Separate refrigerators are kept for each shift’s food and drinks.
Separate refrigerators are kept for each shift’s food and drinks.

 

Along with the general food fund, there are a number of specialty funds that every firefighter may choose to contribute based on their personal habits.  For example, there’s a “newspaper fund,” a “coffee fund,” and even a “soda fund.”  In addition, a monthly house fund covers overall miscellaneous services, maintenance and generic shared items.  Occasionally the firefighters will get an unexpected treat of cookies, cakes or a homemade casserole from the community, which is always appreciated.

A staple among most firehouses is chili, and I learned that there’s an annual chili cook-off competition among San Diego firehouses each year at a Padres game.  This year’s cook-off occurred just recently, and it inspired me to share a favorite chili recipe of my own.  This fireman-worthy recipe is hearty and smoky, and would be great for a summer picnic or backyard barbecue. (See recipe)

If you think firefighters sit around and play cards most of the day waiting for a call, you’d be very mistaken.  When they’re not responding to a medical or fire-related emergency, these guys fill their day with fire inspections, community education, training exercises and equipment maintenance.  No slacking on this job.

As we enter fire season, here are a few tips from the local Engine Company 27:

1)      Check and maintain your smoke detector—“You’d be surprised how many times we go to a fire and there’s a melted smoke detector hanging from the ceiling without batteries,” says longtime firefighter Ron Friel.  “The general rule of thumb is to test your smoke detector and replace batteries twice a year.  We recommend replacing the batteries in your smoke detector when you change your clocks.  This way it becomes a habit.”

2)      Maintain a defensible space around your property—“This is especially important around the canyons.  You should maintain 100 feet of clearance of dry brush from your property,” says Friel.

Thank you to the many firefighters, EMTs and paramedics for all that you do for Clairemont.  These men and women work tirelessly all year to ensure our safety and the wellbeing of our community, so give them a high five or pat on the back next time you see them in your neighborhood grocery store.  They’ve earned it!

Smoky Firehouse Chili

1  pound ground beef

1  pound Italian sausage (I prefer hot)

1  medium onion, chopped

3  celery stalks, chopped

3  garlic cloves, minced

3  14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions

2  16 oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1  14.5 oz. can beef broth

½ bottle of dark beer (Use your favorite beer because you’ll drink the remainder!)

1  6 oz. can of tomato paste

2  tablespoons brown sugar

2  tablespoons chili powder

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke

Shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream for topping (optional)

 

Directions

1.      Cook sausage and ground beef in a large saucepan over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.

2.      Add the onion, celery and garlic.  Cook and stir for five minutes or until tender.

3.      Stir in the tomatoes, beans, beef broth, beer, tomato paste, brown sugar, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, cumin, red pepper flakes and liquid smoke.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

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