Pulling up into the grocery store on a Saturday morning, you will often notice a fire truck parked out front. The lights aren't on and the truck is empty, so it's safe to assume flames aren't consuming the groceries inside. The firefighters' presence adds an air of excitement to a humdrum shopping day and also makes you wish you had at least brushed your hair. Seeing firemen shop for groceries is almost like seeing Superman pick up his dry cleaning and if you are like me, you can't help but peek into their basket. Our local supermen have a special way of keeping themselves fueled up for whatever dangers they may face. The firefighter's schedule is 24 hours on and 48 hours off. That means while at work, they also do all their sleeping, eating and cleaning duties during their day-long shift. For meals, lunch is at noon and supper is at 5pm. Each day, one person is assigned to be the "cook on duty." There are some who seem to be chosen more often for dinner duty, but Chad Martin, a fire equipment operator at Firehouse No. 19 at 411 S. Frankfort Ave. is coy to admit it is because of his prowess in the kitchen.
"Well, it depends who is on duty and is different station by station," said Martin, "We split it up, but I'm in the kitchen more often than not."
The firefighters on duty get to decide what is on the menu for lunch and the main event, dinner. The decision is democratic and some on duty may have their own specialties.
"We go the grocery store and pitch in on what we eat that day and someone might volunteer to cook something for dinner," said Martin.
You read that right. They "pitch in" on their own dinners.
"People think that the city pays for the meals. We pitch in and pay for those each shift," he said.
In fact, food isn't the only thing out-of-pocket expense for the crew. There is a station fund everyone pays a little bit into each month. This fund helps them buy creature comforts, like television sets that help pass the time in between emergency calls. When you sneak a peek into their grocery carts and see some items that are more expensive, it is not your tax dollars paying for that meal.
"If we are walking out of the grocery store with a T-bone, it's because we decided to spend that much ourselves," said Martin.
Martin prefers to use flames to his advantage out on the grill. It makes sense that someone who controls flames for a living would be experts at cooking on the grill.
"I like to cook something like a butterfly pork chop, a decent steak or chicken breast -- even whole meats -- as long as I can cook it on the grill. I don't do anything fancy. If you throw it on the table, it should taste good."
The chef on duty starts prepping for the meal about 30 minutes before lunch, and for dinner they may take a little more time to marinate the meat or prepare for a bigger meal. But all of this preparation can be for naught, for a fireman is always on duty, even during dinner.
"We are interrupted about half the time at our station," said Martin, "In the city, they get interrupted almost every time they try to eat."
As first responders, it's not just fires they are racing to put out. With dinner starting right during rush hour traffic or during noon lunchtime rush, a nice relaxing meal isn't always guaranteed
Mealtime is more than just about the grub, though. The firefighters use it as an opportunity to learn and become better firefighters, exchange stories and talk about best practices. It's also about breaking bread together and camaraderie. The people sitting around the dinner table will be the ones who have your back when out on a fire call.
"Everyone stays together and hangs out together the majority of the dinner," said Martin. "It is an informal training where we talk about what happened during the day or the shift. Then we do have a little time for chit-chat."
Martin has been with the Tulsa Fire Department for eight years, but firehouse culture has been present his whole life.
"My dad was a fireman for 29 years," he said. "There are some things that dad taught me a long time ago. The other guys try to pick it up, too."
Growing up with a fireman as his dad also helped Martin balance the unusual fireman's schedule with his roles as a husband and father of three. With a work schedule that keeps him from being home for an entire morning, noon and night, while protecting families in the community, it can be tricky to find family time.
"For me personally, my dad was a Tulsa fireman, so I grew up with the concept of it. Though it seems like every time there's something special going with the kids, I'm working," said Martin. "But the schedule also allows me to be off often enough to hang out with the kids a lot."
Firefighters sacrifice so much already, but it doesn't stop them from being heroes outside of the fire station. They also are well-known for collecting donations for their charity of choice, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. When you see the firemen out on the streets, holding out their boots for us to fill up with dollars, all the funds go directly to the MDA.
"We usually do a collection in May, but we postponed due to the tornadoes in Moore," said Martin. So if you see them out this summer, be sure to throw a few bucks into their boot to help a great cause.
Some parting advice, straight from the cook on duty at Firehouse No. 19, is for those of you hitting the grills this summer.
"Go easy on the seasoning," Martin said, and, of course "don't overcook the food." In other words, protect your grilled goods from burning like a fireman would.
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