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Warning: Please do not feed the firefighters

The politics of dining can turn the fire station into a real zoo


The best part about a taco is “the whole thing is in an ergonomically friendly completely edible container. Try eating a Chinese take out container,” writes Wyatt.

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One of the greatest challenges any emergency responder faces every day is the dilemma of what to eat.

Now before we go any further in this, a serious public service announcement is in order. It would be almost criminally negligent of me not to use this platform I have been afforded to call attention to diet in our profession. Heart disease is a major factor in a lot of firefighter deaths and diet is something most of us need to improve.

I am guilty as charged. If it is bad for you, I love to eat it. I strolled into the kitchen at the station the other night and the guys were frying Twinkies. That can’t be good for you.

What, me care?

What to eat is an age-old dilemma. Not just at work, but deciding on the where and what of a meal can be a challenge at home — especially if you have children.

When eating out the selection process can be excruciating. There are many different approaches and styles.

A major issue is the not wanting to look overbearing or demanding. So the usual comment of, “Well, what ever you want is OK.” This usually results in the standard reply of, “Oh, what ever you want, I don’t care.”

And there you have it; we are at an impasse. All parties, despite what they said, have a vital interest of what is eaten; they just want be accommodating.

Next comes the usual question of, “what did you have last?” Kind of like on an EMS scene when the patient is questioned as to their last oral intake. Well, I had this and he had that. So that rules out that for today.

There’s always pizza

From here there are several methods to achieve a workable solution. A popular tool is the list. One of the parties lists the choices. “Well, we have fried chicken, burgers, Mexican, pizza.”

A subtle tool during the listing of choices is the Charles Barkley passive suggestive method. You recite a list of choices and interject your choice several times.

If you have seen Charles’ Weight Watcher’s commercial he says meatballs seven times. The same technology applies, “Well, we have pizza, burgers, pizza, chicken wings, and pizza.” I am a pizza guy, so you get the idea.

As in life, the key to a successful dining choice is all about timing. You never want to jump into the fray too early. If you do, your suggestion could be dismissed.

The key is to wait until it almost appears that no decision can be made and any intelligent suggestion will be immediately be embraced. “Hey! What about pizza?”

No, really, I don’t care

Once a life-changing decision is finally reached and the celebratory high fives are completed, comes the next step in the political process. I normally go with the flow unless in involves liver or Sauerkraut.

However, for the people who have spent the last 15 minutes saying they don’t care but when a decision is made don’t like it, there are several viable options.

There’s the “I’ll take one for the team martyr” approach. “You guys go ahead and eat there. I can’t eat that stuff because of my cholesterol. I will sit in the truck. Maybe I can find a piece of bread back at the station.”

Another acceptable method which has an extremely high efficiency rating is the “ooh yeah; one of the shifts ate there the other night and the whole shift got sick.” You will hear the air brake on the truck set so fast your head will spin.

Lift-assist requested

Once an establishment is decided upon comes the ever-popular emergency during your meal. On the medic unit we usually get our food to go. That way, we can just bundle it up. I have sat down countless times for a meal (as has everybody) only to have a call come in.

It is interesting how different restaurants handle that. Some cover our food and place it in the food warmer. Some throw it away and allow us to re-order.

However, some throw the food away and tell us if we want to eat re-order and re-pay. Uh no. And I won’t be back.

Dining in presents an even greater challenge. Not only does it have to be decided on what to eat but additionally who will cook it. This can be a problematic.

Ode to a taco

Where I work it is an unwritten rule that the person who returns from a day off is given the responsibility of cooking. Of course if a person has a reputation for being clueless in the kitchen, somebody will usually step in and offer to cook.

At work I like to suggest tacos at the appropriate moment. It is quick easy and only requires the browning of ground meat and some slicing of vegetables. Behold the taco — one of the most endearing and as close to perfect food sources as you can find in the universe. I rank it up there with the Astrodome and the Golden Gate Bridge.

You have all the major food groups in the palm of your hand. The main ingredient can range from chicken, fish, pork, beef or even just vegetables. You have dairy in the cheese, an array of vegetables and even grain in the shell.

The best part is of course the whole thing is in an ergonomically friendly completely edible container. Try eating a Chinese take out container.

Paper chef

In every station there is usually a person with the reputation as a good cook. Some people, not so much. Some people literally can’t boil water.

Here is a tip for all aspiring firehouse chefs. Never under any circumstance attempt a recipe that you saw on a TV cooking show or in a magazine without trying it at home first.

Everybody who has ever picked up a spatula and started cooking has had a recipe go south. From Julia Child to Rachel Ray, at some point they threw up their hands and said, “call Dominos.”

A fire station is not the place for a culinary disaster. The well-meaning chef will never hear the end of that dark day. It will be brought up at his retirement party.

I have witnessed some epic food failures.

For example, I once witnessed a dinner go wrong years ago and it is still talked about to this day. A well-meaning aspiring chef volunteered to make lasagna. Everyone was enthusiastic on the prospect of lasagna for dinner. A trip to the grocery store ensued.

It was about here that things went awry. Our well-meaning culinary genius purchased all the ingredients including the lasagna noodles.

It would seem there are two types of lasagna noodles. There is the kind you boil in water and add to the lasagna and the type that is precooked and requires no boiling. You can see where this is going. Yes, it was the first peanut brittle lasagna in history.

Another unwritten rule handed down through the years is the old stand by “the person who cooks doesn’t clean up. It is a good rule in that it rewards the person who took the time to cook. However, it gives some people cart Blanche to turn the kitchen into a federally funded disaster area.

Do you remember the old Gallagher comedy bit, the “Sledgeomatic,” where the audience had to wear plastic? I have literally seen stuff dripping off the ceiling.

We cleaned up after a fried chicken meal one night and I promise you there was less oil leaked from the Exxon Valdez. The chicken was good.

Let’s try to eat better and let me hear from you.


Read next:

Diets for firefighters: What works and why?

Fitness expert and firefighter Aaron Zamzow breaks down the anatomy of a diet and how to make it work for you and the fire service lifestyle

This article, originally published May 12, 2012, has been updated

Will Wyatt, originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for about 30 years. Wyatt is a captain at a fire department near Houston. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments, including full-time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Wyatt holds a master firefighter certification in Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification and an associate degree from Houston Community College. He is author of the book, “And a Paycheck, Too!” Check out an excerpt here. Connect with Wyatt on LinkedIn.