Today I'm eating lunch with engine 287 of the Chandler Fire Department. I've been given a tip -- bring ice cream -- so I arrive with two quarts in hand, chocolate and French vanilla. After a few quick introductions, and the handing over of the ice cream, we are off.
Engine 287 has four firefighters on duty this day: Engineer Russell Applegate, Captain Trig Broderick, and firefighters RJ Rush and Adrian Thomas.
On the way to the supermarket, firefighter Adrian Thomas tells me there is usually a ride-along curse where, "nothing will happen when you're with us."
Firefighters pool their money and buy all their own food. They also do their own shopping. These guys try to be pretty thrifty. They have "club" cards for all the stores in the area. They pitch in $5 per person per meal. So that's $10 for the day's lunch and dinner. That doesn't leave a lot left over for extras -- thus the ice cream.
It's an eye-catching sight - a group of firefighters food shopping at the grocery store. What's their M.O? Broderick and Thomas say typically, they head straight for the meat department to see what's on special. The day's menu will be planned around whatever they find there. There are other crews that have vegetarians, they assure me, but not this one.
The lunch menu is settled upon: fish tacos with mango salsa and broccoli salad.
Back at the station the guys sort of naturally break off and begin preparing different parts of the meal. Trig is working on the salsa, Adrian has started frying bacon for the broccoli salad, and RJ is outside firing up the grill for the fish. Russell isn't present but he cooked dinner last night.
In fact Russell celebrated his birthday the night before. Here at the firehouse, there's a tradition. If it's your birthday you're in charge of making dinner. You decide on the menu, you buy all the ingredients and do all the preparation. Russell made a tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry: tenderloin en croute.
He says, " I put the pastry down, then threw the meat on top and covered it and wrapped it up -- try and make it look pretty. It came out pretty good." The other men agree enthusiastically.
In the kitchen the sounds of chopping and mixing rise; a pitcher of sun tea is brought in from outside. When the meal is ready they insist that I go first, but with admonishments to hurry up. They're hungry, too.
"Alright, alright," I say, "where should I sit"?
"Wherever you like -- no assigned seats -- wherever you can find the cleanest counter top." Russell swoops into the dining room, "Let me look that over and make sure that's clean."
In the common room at the firehouse are six identical lazy-boy recliners placed in a semi-circle in front of a television; hunting and firefighting magazines are scattered randomly on the long dining room table.
"It's a pretty colorful little spread right there," says Trig. We all start talking about the broccoli salad, which is delicious but has a curious amount of mayonnaise and sugar in it. Firefighter Thomas announces, "You can never have too much cheese or bacon."
We are about three bites into lunch when a call comes in. I watch Russell take his napkin from his lap and lay it across his lunch plate - still full of food - and I quickly follow suit.
Seconds later - sirens blaring, horn honking - we are in the truck racing down the street. A possible gas pipe rupture inside a home. The demeanor changes to total efficiency. Next to me, two firemen have suited up in 67 pounds of gear within seconds.
The call turns out to be not much, the situation is under control quickly and soon enough we are headed back to the station and our tacos. "Still tastes pretty good," says firefighter Rush.
2 large bunches of broccoli, cut into bite size pieces