No. 4: Burning question answered: Why firefighters buy groceries together


Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story originally published March 3. 

They get the questions almost all the time while grocery shopping:

Why do all of you buy food together? And are you allowed to do this while on duty?

Why yes, they are.

In fact, firefighters are required to shop together, and they dig into their own wallets to pay for their food while working — just like most of us do.

Firefighters, as the men and women of Anaheim Fire & Rescue Stations 6, 8 and 11 explained, work as a close-knit, fast-acting unit during each 24-hour shift.

When a call for service comes in, the goal, as always, is to start rolling together in an engine, truck or other rig in 90 seconds or less.

That’s why firefighters buy groceries together. A call can come at any time. Sometimes it takes two or three trips to the grocery store to get what they need that shift.

Having an uninterrupted meal during any shift is a bonus.

It varies by station, but typically, a firefighter will donate $4 to $5 every shift he or she works for “staples” — the snacks and beverage most people have in their pantries at home. (Emergency Medical Technicians who work for an outside company but contract with and are assigned to a station typically pitch in a dollar less).

In addition, firefighters will kick in an additional $5 for lunch and $5 for dinner — for a total of about $15 for chow during a 24-hour shift, says Firefighter Engineer Paul Lagace of Station 6. Station 6, he adds, also has a house fund that is $1 a day for newspapers, dishes, some workout equipment, etc.

On a standard 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift at Anaheim Fire & Rescue stations, “chow” usually is scheduled for around noon and 5 p.m.

Firefighters take turns cooking meals (sometimes they go for takeout and eat at the station or, more rarely, dine together), and as a group they decide on what staples to buy — with special requests requiring a majority vote for approval.

Over the years, staples have evolved from the basics — coffee, sugar, flour, spices and condiments, etc. — to, at most fire stations, a vast array of food and beverage options for the hardworking men and women of Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

Some stations take pride in the variety of their staples — and some have taken it to an art.

For example, within Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s 11 stations, Station 4 has a reputation for stocking its shelves with a vast array of healthy food options including seaweed, chia seeds, almond milk, frozen berries and hummus.

Station 2 is known for its Otter Pops, sweet breakfast cereals, frozen waffles and ice cream — yummy!

Most stations fall somewhere in between, like Station 11 on the city’s westernmost end — with the evolution toward healthier fare helping fuel optimal performance during long and sometimes nonstop 24-hour shifts.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Engineer Paramedic Rob Fry showed off some of Station 11’s offerings.

“Coffee, milk and trail mix,” Fry said when asked what were the most commonly purchased items.

Peanut butter, cereal, oats and granola bars also are standard.

So are Tums, vitamins and aspirin.

Salad dressing?


Instant chocolate milk?

You betcha.

“Staples have definitely evolved over the years,” Fry said.

“Now, there seems to be something for everybody.”