By Laura McAlister
During the holidays, it’s business as usual for firefighters. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have a holiday meal worth celebrating.
In fact, firefighters all over the country have become known for their gourmet grub. Whether it’s for Thanksgiving dinner at the firehouse or just a typical day, firefighters come together to cook a hearty meal.
At Hoover’s Station No. 5 in Bluff Park, they whip up at least two hot meals a day. Though they still have to tend to their regular duties on the holidays, those on duty Thanksgiving and Christmas Day still make time to gather around the table for a mouth-watering meal.
“This year we’re doing rib-eye,” said firefighter Scott Wilkinson, who worked on Thanksgiving and is scheduled for Christmas Eve. “Big, fat rib-eyes. I can eat leftover turkey when I get home. I’ll have a fridge full of turkey.”
Firefighters like Scott, who’s been with the department more than a decade, have become used to working holiday shifts. And since firefighters have to prepare their own meals while on duty, he’s also become quite a cook.
“We just kind of all get together for a meal, so we don’t starve,” he said. “I’ve watched the other guys through the years and picked up a few things here and there. It’s really trial and error.”
According to firefighter Brian Hallman, Scott is the “gravy man.” He also makes a “killer enchilada,” added firefighter Michael Thorin.
Whatever Scott and his fellow firefighters are cooking up, expect it to be hearty, like Scott’s beef tips and gravy with black-eyed peas.
“We might have that for lunch, but then of course we’ll have a healthy dinner,” joked Capt. Blake Jones. “I’m sure it will be something like broccoli and skinless chicken breasts.”
More likely Scott and fellow firefighter and cook Adam Reeves are going to whip up something with a bit more flavor – like bacon, eggs, biscuits and grits or maybe their special gumbo. That’s always a crowd pleaser, Scott said.
And since these guys spend every minute together during their three-day shifts – waking and sleeping – of course they also gather around the dinner table together for their five-star meals.
Rusty Lowe, public information officer for the Hoover Department, said mealtimes are often therapeutic for firefighters.
“Especially around the holidays when bad things happen, it can be tough,” he said. “A lot of therapy is done around the dinner table. It’s physical and mental nourishment for us.”
They do have a good bit of fun, too.
Michael said the Station No. 5 crew knows not to let him cook.
“They don’t even allow me to have sharp objects,” he said. He’s typically left in charge of buttering the bread and opening the cans.
During the holidays, they’ll have work to do around the station, but it’s usually a little more relaxed, Scott said.
“We’ll turn on the TV in the morning and have it on all day,” he said. “Usually we don’t turn the TV on until about 4 p.m.”
Their work includes the typical vehicle checks and cleaning, and of course those unplanned emergencies.
It’s not uncommon for the firefighters to get an emergency call while they’re cooking their holiday feasts. That’s when they spring into action — and hopefully remember to cut off the stove.
“It’s not really good PR for us to have a station catch fire,” Rusty said. “They might have to come back to cold food, but I can promise you it’ll be the best they’ve had.”
Of course, if the firefighters can’t finish preparing their meal, stations like the one in Bluff Park have plenty of options to fall back on.
“We always have tons of people bringing us food, especially during the holidays,” Brian said. “The people here are really great to us. We get lots of pecan pies and you name it.”
The guys at Station No. 5 aren’t the only ones in Hoover known for their tasty bites. Fire Chief John Wingate, who dines at all the different stations, said each has some super cooks.
“These guys cook really, really well. The good ones kind of surface to the top,” he said. “I do visit the different stations.
“I couldn’t eat there all the time, though. I’d be twice as big as I am now.”
Beef Tips & Rice
3 lbs Beef Tips.
3 Jars Heinz Savory Beef Gravy.
1 Box of beef broth. Add as needed.
1 Can cream of mushroom.
1 Large can mushrooms.
Add lemon pepper, salt and pepper.
Serve over rice.
Red Bean Gumbo
Package of Conecuh sausage
Package of crab meat
Shrimp (1 to 2 lbs.)
2 Cans dark kidney beans
2 Cans light kidney beans
Onion and bell pepper chopped
Tablespoon of Crab Boil
1 Box Zatarains Red Bean Seasoning, mix only (No rice)
1 Box Zatarains Gumbo Base
Add okra if desired
Add chicken broth if too thick