We love to eat. We love to cook. We love to visit the stores, familiarize ourselves with the district, interact with the people we are paid to protect and contribute to the local economy. It’s one of the many great parts of the greatest job in the world.
Generations of firefighters have shared the experience of gathering around the table and breaking bread. Mealtime seldom goes smoothly, the job comes first, always. Many a masterpiece has sat on the dinner table, going cold, getting stale and dying of loneliness as the intended benefactors of the feast are occupied elsewhere. The meal is always a risk, but one well worth taking. It goes with the territory, and we all know it. Showing up for work is a risk. You just never know.
In bigger firehouses; those with two or more fire/rescue companies, the cooking duty is rotated among the crews. Whoever is responsible for the meal simply adds that job to the normal routine. In between station maintenance, vehicle maintenance, personal maintenance, training and of course, the emergency calls, shopping for and preparing lunch or dinner for the crew is accomplished.
We go together. From the moment we “relieve our man, or woman,” we are part of a team. The apparatus is only a tool; the people assigned to it make up the company. In an ideal situation, company integrity is never compromised. If three firefighters are assigned to a piece of apparatus, then three will be ready willing and able to go at all times. Some companies have four, or five firefighters assigned, or, in some cases, only two.
Whatever the number, we go together and work as a team. And train as a team. And do our job, always the job, as a team.
We shop as a team. We take the truck. We park it in the store’s lot, and go in together. If we are needed, we drop everything and go. The truck is never more than thirty seconds away. Luck is a fickle thing. Sometimes when a call comes in, we are actually in a better position when responding from wherever it is we are, a store, the training ground, clearing a different call, or simply familiarizing ourselves with our district. You just never know when or where we will be needed. Responding from quarters, responding from a store, or the highway doesn’t matter much, what does matter is that we are ready. And we always are.
When we are called away, the folks at the store put our stuff aside and wait for us to come back. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes. Sometimes it will be hours until we return. But we always return, and pay for our food. If the bill is forty dollars, and there are ten people to feed, we pitch in five bucks each. The extra is put aside, when it hits a hundred or so, we make something special. Those meals are normally saved for Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Forth of July. If you happen to be working on your birthday, you might even get a cake. It’s nice to share a nice meal with your second family on the holidays. It makes being away from home bearable.
Every now and then a concerned citizen sees the firefighters in a local store, and decides enough is enough. He or she will call their Mayor, or Town Manager or whoever is in charge, or the local media and report the perceived abuse of taxpayer resources to the powers that be. The Mayor calls the Chief, the chief calls the Captains and the firefighters are told stop visiting the local markets. The firefighters still bring in food to prepare, still eat as a family and still respond to calls for help. The news media sometimes assigns a reporter to the “story.” More times than not, a positive outcome is achieved. Once people understand the tradition, camaraderie and civic responsibility that mealtime in the Firehouse promotes, the uproar dies down, the politicians and chiefs let their people back into the community and harmony is restored.
A few bad apples only ruin the bunch for a little while. And sometimes, those rotting apples can make a pretty good pie, as long as you get them before they go completely bitter.