by Adam Drapcho
The on-duty life of a full-time firefighter is unpredictable, with the potential for a high-stress emergency call to come in at any moment, at any hour of the day. In the winter, those calls could require firefighters to spend a lot of time outdoors, in very cold conditions. Working together in these conditions, firefighters and paramedics establish a bond of camaraderie between one another. When there's a break in the action, fire fighters often look forward to sharing a meal with their shift mates.
J.P. Hobby, a firefighter and paramedic who has been with the Laconia Fire Department for 15 years, said the fire service's unique lifestyle is a perfect match for a particular kitchen implement: the slow cooker.
"Especially this time of year, we'll to some crock pot meals," he said. "Chili or stew, or chowder in the crock pot, so that it's all done and everyone gets the chance to sit down and have a hot meal at some point."
As if fighting fires and responding to car accidents in frigid temperatures wasn't enough winter fun, firefighters also shovel out all of the city's fire hydrants after each snow storm. On days such as those, Hobby said everyone looks forward to coming back to the fire station for a hot bowl of "Two Can Chili."
The duplicitous recipe calls for two pounds of meat, browned with two onions, then, "Two cans of kidney beans, two cans of black beans, two cans of tomatoes, it's just two cans, two cans, two cans until the crock pot's full," he said.
"Simple things like that make you happy when you've been out shoveling hydrants all day." He noted that firefighters, not the taxpayers, pay for the groceries.
At the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department, the recipes that Captain David Hall has developed in the fire house have earned him awards at the Granite State Dairy Promotion Mac and Cheese Cook-Off, such as his recipe that incorporates bits of cheese that are fried to crisp, then folded into the dish.
"Have you ever eat the burnt cheese off a pan? You ever like it? That's how I came up with it," said Hall, a 12 year veteran of the Tilton-Northfield Department, who said he learned to cook while stationed at the Army's Fort Drum in New York.
"We didn't go to chow hall, we just cooked for ourselves," he recalled. At the T-N FD, Hall said there are three people on per shift. "You try to make the rookie cook as much as possible, but we rotate pretty evenly," he said.
Although his mac and cheese is the most notable dish, Hall said they do make healthy meals as well as the hearty ones. The people sitting around the table are just as important as what's on the plate, said Hall.
"We're all eating together," he said. "It helps promote family values, helps promote team work."
At the Belmont Fire Department, 20-year veteran Lieutenant Mike Newhall has become known as the meat guy.
"I cook mostly beef – apparently I do one hell of a prime rib. I don't know how it comes out that well, but it does." He has developed a special treatment for the beef that he calls the "Firehouse Rub," which is, "Anything in the cupboard, mix it up and rub it on the roast and put it in the oven."
After doing a job that ranges from stressful, to difficult, to perilous, sitting down for a meal is a welcome comfort.
Said Newhall, "There's a group you that can come together.. It's kind of a family-type environment."
Lieutenant Mike Newhall of Belmont Fire Department is known for his prime rib. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)
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