Firefighters turn up the heat
By Chris Michlewicz; Photos courtesy of Eric Hurst, SMFR
It’s a commonly held belief that a firefighter’s diet while on duty consists of foods like chili, hamburgers, spaghetti and pizza. The men and women at South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) are reshaping that perception.
The department has overhauled its menu in recent years, favoring raw veggies over sweet and salty snacks, baked chicken over burgers, and hydrating beverages over soft drinks. The frequency of cardiac issues in firefighters was, in part, a catalyst for change, said Lt. Dustin Searle, a firefighter based out of SMFR Station 39 on Happy Canyon Road.
The push for healthier, fitter crews has already made a significant difference. “Everybody feels better now,” he said.
At the station, everyone takes turns cooking, and many have become quite good at preparing dishes that earn praise from their crewmates (and later shifts if there are any leftovers). On the other hand, it’s sink or swim for newbie cooks.
“Firefighters can be tough critics for sure,” said Searle, a firefighter who has spent 19 years as a specialist in fighting and preventing wildland fires. “If you don’t get it right, they let you know.”
Of course, on more than one occasion, the 4- to 5-person crew has prepared an elaborate spread, only to have the alarm go off before a bite could be taken. There is no time to wrap up food and put it in the fridge before they rush to an emergency. As (bad) luck would have it, on the day Searle was interviewed for this story, Station 39 got called out as everyone was sitting down for lunch. No one ended up eating until 2:45 p.m.
It’s surprising to learn that firefighters not only do their own grocery shopping, but pay for their own food while on shift, and it doesn’t qualify as a tax write-off. Another important point for the public to know, especially good-hearted citizens who simply want to do something nice, is that because of the pandemic, fire stations are no longer allowed to accept premade food that’s dropped off. If residents want to perform a nice gesture, gift cards to local restaurants and grocery stores are accepted and greatly appreciated.
Searle’s favorite item to cook is barbecue pulled pork with pepperoncini in a Crockpot, sometimes accompanied by side items like sweet baked potatoes and broccoli.
Prior to being a firefighter, Searle had little experience in the kitchen. He learned from colleagues, and now enjoys the process of food prep. He pointed out that although his wife had to endure trial and error as he tried to hone his cooking game, she now benefits from his culinary prowess.
“Firefighters really enjoy cooking. It’s a fun side passion,” Searle said. It goes without saying that whoever does the cooking doesn’t have to do the dishes.