Food shopping while on duty?

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.


  • Art Gomez says:

    For some reason some of the people in our district thought they paid for our food. Not realizing that we are using our funds and spending it in the community.

  • Brian N Jones says:

    Oh how true this story is. After more than 20 years in fire/ems, I know it all too well. Many, MANY times we’ve prepared the best meal or culinary masterpiece only to have it sit and become that nights trash. I love this piece and thanks for sharing it.

  • Angel Del Carpio says:

    It is the best thing I have read in recent days. It is accurate, is correct, is the truth. Unfortunately we are all exposed to the bad intentions of people who likes to exaggerate situations. Best regards From Lima 4 Fire Station, Lima, Perú

  • Tom C says:

    I always try to buy our volunteer firefighters’ meal when I see them in a restaurant or fast food store. Sometimes others get the idea before I do and beat me to the punch. Emergency Personnel are appreciated in the Midwest (at least where I eat 🙂 )

  • Andrew says:

    Shopping in our district is a great opportunity for some public relations. We sometimes get rude comments from a citizen. That is when taking the time to explain that you are in your responding district and that you are able to respond quickly, sometimes faster, to an emergency call. There are always a couple of negative Nellie’s, but almost every person that we talk to becomes educated on the facts; we pay for our own food, response time isn’t adversely affected, and we sometimes have to go to the store for missing ingredients or to replace a ruined/cold meal.
    Being positive advocates for our department/cities is always a good thing.

  • Phil S says:

    I’ve ran into that situation many times while at the store getting food. People asking why we wasting time and why were taking the truck to the store and wanting to know who was minding the station . But then again I’ve also had on several occasions that our entire grocery bill paid for by the person in line behind us with a thank you for your service added on.

  • William K. says:

    It does not make sense to do anything else! As long as the firefighters are in a position to do their job, I would hate to have them hungry while working to save MY building. BUT it was a bit startling the first time I saw the fire apparatus at my friends restaurant. So now the deal is “getting dinner, lights off, official business, all flashers on”, and no more tense dashes to see what is going on.

  • Janet Arnold says:

    Makes sense to me, when I see them in Walmarts I always ask them are you unit 4 , they say yes we are,I tell them hello I’m your neighbor good to see you.

  • vincent j anzelone says:

    Its tough in NYC. One woman said to us in line “wow we pay for pretty good food for you guys” our Senior guy looked her right in the eye and said ‘Well you never know could be the last meal we ever eat ma’am” ! She turned white and apologized.
    We laughed all the way to the rig!

  • Jessica Moncada says:

    Meal time has always been a firehouse tradition. It’s just like dinner with the family when we were kids. We all get together, share stories and bond. Integral part of each shift and the fire service.

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