Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Firefighters: These Heroes Get Me Hot — and Bothered

November 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ll admit it was a weird sensation, seeing my name on the food lead about firehouse cooking today in my former competitor’s paper. (The Sun-Sentinel’s food page.)

But the story was so cool to report, I jumped at it, plus, I’m a free agent now. Firefighters are just super folks to work with. (And I got to ride with them on every call!) 

After working a full day’s shift with my new pals at Station 4 in Deerfield, I got a real down-and-dirty look at about what they face with every call. You’d think as rescuers, they’d be welcomed in every situation. Not so, sadly.

Just another day for them

They walk into situations that turn violent in a flash — and unlike the cops, they’re in there unarmed. They deal with drug-crazed nut cases, or people who are psychotic and unbelievably have access to guns and knives. Or they pull up on an interstate, and get out in pouring rain in oncoming traffic to help a stupid kid who hit the wall, but refuses help. (He was texting while driving, and is afraid he’ll be in legal trouble if he accepts medical care.)

They’re subject to horrific trash talk from a patient’s family — who insist they pay taxes, so if their loved one has a stomachache, Fire Rescue is responsible for coming out to truck her the two blocks — that’s right — two blocks, to the hospital. (The woman was even in the family truck and had her bags with her when rescue was called. You’ve got to wonder.)

One of the firefighters told me the most common line they get: “You guys just sit around all day and watch TV — and my tax money pays for you to do it.” A patent untruth.

The TV room was empty the whole time I was there, because the firefighters were out testing hydrants, or inspecting a new building, working out, cleaning the fire truck, running rescue calls, or studying for more technical testing that’s required of these workers constantly.

Firefighter John Stepp (dec.), of Gastonia FD, N.C./photo by Ken Steinhoff

Firefighter John Stepp (dec.), of Gastonia FD, N.C./photo by Ken Steinhoff

We’re going to deny them a chance to cook and eat, or “come down” by watching TV after working an accident where a kid’s died from drowning, despite that they worked on him for 45 minutes? Or they, as parents themselves, come back from treating a 3-year-old who’s been burned by her own father as a punishment?

They face  these things more often than humans should. And a few admitted there are always some calls they can’t shake. They have departmental de-stress programs, but some sights linger forever.

“It’s usually the kids, or families,” one told me. “Certain things just get to you.”

Cupcakes for a life

Of course, they have days when nothing really major happens and they do get a chance to shoot some hoops or cook a real dinner. Or they go on “happy calls” and pull out a dog wedged behind a kitchen crawlspace to return to its frantic owner. “We get cupcakes brought in, sometimes, from people who thank us for saving their husband’s life,” one firefighter said. “And some people send a thank-you card.”

But like my friend Ken Steinhoff says, “I don’t give a flying fig if they play Tiddly Winks for 23 hours and 59 minutes a day, as long as I know that within 1 minute of getting that simple three-digit phone call, they are on their way here — to restart my heart, or cut me out of a car, or run into the burning building that everyone else is running out of.”

Well put.

Grand pay?

As for their pay: My son is a part-time firefighter on call, usually working 24-hour shifts. He makes less than garbarge collectors, and most Wal-Mart store workers. Instead of throwing around garbage cans and bagging toys made in China for 8 hours, he goes in at 7 a.m., and 20 hours later at 3 a.m., is racing out to a house to pump somebody’s chest, or cut a guy out of car that’s wrapped around a telephone pole, or pulling hoses to a house fire.

If it were up to me, Jason and his crew could watch episodes of Rescue Me! at the station every day — and I’d gladly send my tax money directly to the cable company for it to happen.

Tags: Firefighters: Daily Heroes and Cooks

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Juan Montalvo // Nov 14, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Hello Jan,

    I just wanted to thank you for the great article you wrote about my fellow Firefighters in Deerfield Beach, Fl. The essence of a day at the fire house came through with flying colors.

    Penny and Sebastian (Sea Bass) where to of my favorite cooks. I actually had them placed at my station on my last shift, to cook my last fire house meal.

    I just recently retired after 28 years with Deerfield Beach Fire/Rescue. I too was one of the cooks at the fire house. It is interesting, we all had our own style. Penny-Oriental, Seabass-Italian, me-healthy Cuban food.

    It was an honor and a privilege to serve with those guys for 28 years, now I am following my other passion, cooking healthy weight loss meals, for folks online. Please check out my site:


    Thanks again,
    Juan Montalvo
    Boca Raton, Fl

  • 2 Kevin Byrnes // Dec 21, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Good info. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident (stumbleupon). I’ve book marked it for later! Law Offices of Kevin Byrnes PLLC

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