The aging kitchen, built in the early 1960s at Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Station 7, may be seriously old school (and in serious need of upgrading), but the food being cooked there — and the drinks being served — definitely aren’t.
“Care for some water?” the captain asks a visitor.
This is not ordinary water. It’s chilled H2O garnished with fresh berries plucked from the firehouse freezer.
And nary a junk-food item — common at most firehouses — is in sight.
In fact, it’s only been a few days since the regulars at Station 7, after complaints from visiting firefighters pulling overtime shifts, broke down and bought some “staples” they view as downright unhealthy:
Chocolate-covered acai berries, chocolate-covered almonds, and M&Ms.
Red Vines? Pub mix? Cookies?
Perish the thought!
The meals being shared by firefighters at Station 7, particularly members of Shift A (Captain Kent Hemseri, Firefighter Engineer Paramedic Manny Ortega, Firefighter Paramedic Jade Morgan, and Firefighter Paramedic Anthony Silva), would make even your average health-conscious eater feel downright self-conscious.
“I brought this from home,” says Firefighter Paramedic Jade Morgan, showing a small container filled with brown rice, turkey and beans.
“I’m full after I eat this,” Morgan says, “and I weigh 205 pounds and exercise all the time. If you served this to the guys at dinner (at other stations), they’d be like, ‘WTF? Are you trying to starve me?’”
Members of Shift A at AF&R’s Station 7 aren’t nutrition or exercise snobs. They’re just disciples of an emerging, and welcomed, trend in the fire service: an emphasis on eating healthier and exercising more.
AF&R, in fact, in approaching the end of a 12-week wellness challenge to encourage firefighters to shed pounds and tone muscles.
Station 7 firefighters are among the agency’s poster boys of wellness.
Silva never eats sugar and thrives on a meat, veggies and cheese diet.
Morgan, a workout fiend (mountain biking is his thing) who is married to a registered dietician and triathlete — they both wrote a cookbook a while back because their home cooking was so popular with friends — said he and his colleagues typically bring in food from home, most of it meticulously portioned (fist size).
“Most firefighters, they work all day on the job, then sit down and absolutely chow down on their food,” Morgan says. “By the time your stomach realizes it’s full, you’ve probably eaten twice as much as your body needs.”
The firefighters make sure to eat together for the camaraderie.
On a recent weekday, the Shift A firefighters prepared a healthy dinner of barbecued bone-in chicken breast and a side dish of roasted vegetables and potatoes.
They were interrupted twice by medical-aid calls from 4:30 p.m., when they were getting ready to cook the meal, to 6:40 p.m., when they finally were able to sit down and eat.
Engineer Paramedic Manny Ortega — a Cross Fit devotee — did the honors of manning the grill at the station, which is one of AF&R’s moderately busy stations, with an average of six to eight calls per 24-hour shift.
“Fast food is not even in his repertoire,” Morgan says of Ortega, a 16-year AF&R veteran.
“I think we’re seeing more of a trend toward wellness (in the fire service),” Ortega says. “If you look at injury and death rates of firefighters in the U.S., most are from cardiac issues, and those stem from poor diet and lack of exercise. Obviously, you have to be fit to do this job, but the problem is we get complacent.”
In addition to the obvious physical rigors of the job, firefighting is stressful, Ortega says.
Calls that can be very disturbing.
The ebb and flow of adrenaline.
It adds up.
He admits to having a serious sweet tooth.
“I’m not like these guys,” Hemseri says, referring to his occasional “cheat meal.”
Barbecued bone-in chicken breast
Thaw and sprinkle with a “dry rub” of your choice
Place chicken on grill off to the side of flames; close lid on gas grill
Cook 15 minutes.
Turn chicken over, close lid on gas grill, and cook another 10 minutes.
Move chicken over direct heat and cook, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes.
Roasted vegetables and potatoes
Red and green bell peppers
Wash and cut the vegetables, put in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and roasted garlic and salt, add crushed red pepper.
Cook for 30 minutes at 425 F