It has happened twice a day, every day, in every Detroit Firehouse. That familiar yell of “CHOW!” It’s a not so subtle way of letting everyone know a meal is ready.
Each morning firehouse cooks collect money from each member of their crew, shop for that day’s food, then prepare and serve lunch and dinner. Who cooks, depends on which firehouse you’re in on what day. Some houses have a designated cook, some rotate the duty with a cook of the month, and in others it’s determined at the beginning of a shift.
At different points in DFD history the cook would take their own car shopping. Other time they were required to take the rig. Some mornings, when you’re in the area of Joe Randazzo’s Fruit and Vegetable Market or E&L Supermercado you can witness a parade of fire rigs coming and going. Firefighters greet each other with hugs and leave each other saying “Stay safe” as they shop for their day’s provisions.
Like the diverse backgrounds of the men and women of the DFD, what is served varies greatly. The firehouse is where I had my first taste of greens, which I am a big fan of, and rabbit “hot wings”, which were just OK. In the 7th battalion homemade fresh salsa and chips are a staple .
Cooks get known for their specialties, that dish they perfect and everybody loves, even if we won’t tell them to their faces. Tony Watts makes my favorite mac & cheese. Dave Ortega‘s masterpiece is sweet and sour cabbage. Pete Bensky is legendary for his homemade cream puffs.
“CHOW!” echos through the firehouse. Firefighters fill their plates and gather around the table. When the meal is done, you may hear things like Robert Distelrath says after nearly every meal. “This may possibly, be the best meal I’ve ever eaten”. Or as Edgar Frost used to ask. “You know what’s missing from this meal?”……(long pause from dramatic effect)…..…….”flavor”. They probably borrowed these sayings from their former officers who have long ago retired. Hopefully some young firefighter will continue the tradition and borrow from them.
A large part of life in the firehouse revolves around traditions and routines. They give you a sense of normalcy in a profession where you never know what the next few seconds hold.
Shopping, cooking, doing dishes, hopefully you get a nap. Cook more, eat more, do more dishes, hopefully you get more sleep. As we say in Detroit, “Two eats, two sleeps“…….that is, until the bell goes off. Then normal quickly disappears.
Detroit Firefighters talks about traditional meals and the cooks that prepared them.