May 042014


Today is International Firefighters’ Day (IFFD). It was instituted after a proposal was emailed out across the world on January 4, 1999 following the deaths of five firefighters in tragic circumstances in a wildfire in Australia. May 4 used to be a traditional Firefighters’ Day in many European countries, because it is the feast day of Saint Florian, patron saint of firefighters.


On 2 December 1998, firefighters in Linton in the Australian state of Victoria were fighting a large wild fire near the town and called for mutual aid. This mutual aid call brought two trucks from the volunteer Geelong West Fire Brigade to the scene as a strike team. As the trucks entered the hot zone the wind suddenly changed direction and the trucks were engulfed in flames. Five firefighters – Garry Vredeveldt, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson, Jason Thomas, and Matthew Armstrong – were killed. IFFD was instituted to commemorate not only their deaths, but the deaths of all firefighters in action, and to honor the bravery and dedication of all firefighters worldwide.

Linton memorial

Linton memorial

One of the ways to show your support is to wear or sport a red and blue ribbon as shown above. Red represents fire and the blue, water. You can wear the ribbon, decorate your car or house with the colors, place tokens on your front lawn. Be creative. Show your support.


The patron saint of firefighters is St Florian. Florian was born about 250 CE in the ancient Roman city of Aelium Cetiumin in present-day Sankt Pölten in Austria. He joined the Roman army and advanced in the ranks, rising to commander of the imperial army in the Roman province of Noricum. In addition to his military duties, he was also responsible for organizing firefighting brigades. Florian organized and trained an elite group of soldiers whose sole duty was to fight fires, and so is sometimes honored as the founder of professional firefighting. Among miracles attributed to him was the extinguishing of a raging village fire using a single bucket of water. It is also said that he was executed during the Diocletian persecution of Christians. Reports reached Rome that Florian was not enforcing the proscriptions against Christians in his territory. Aquilinus was sent to investigate these reports. When Aquilinus ordered Florian to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods in accordance with Roman religion, he refused. Florian was sentenced to be burned at the stake. Standing on the funeral pyre, Florian is reputed to have challenged the Roman soldiers to light the fire, saying “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.” Instead they drowned him in the Enns river with a millstone around his neck. His death thus ironically combines fire and water.

Although International Firefighters Day originated from the deaths of firefighters in Linton, the day is meant as a memorial and celebration of people in all branches of emergency services including hazardous materials specialists, fire prevention specialists, heavy equipment operators/mechanics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), auxiliaries, and more. Do something special today to honor people in these services in your own way.


I would like to celebrate the day by honoring the members of my old company, Cuddebackville Fire Department (CFD). I was a volunteer firefighter/EMT with them for 7 years. During that time I had some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Cuddebackville is a small rural community in the region of New York that borders Pennsylvania and New Jersey. You might think that a village of around 600 people would not need a fire company, but CFD performs all manner of emergency duties and community services – medical emergencies, road accidents, river rescue, flood control, ice rescue, and so forth. In the busiest year when I was in the squad we were called out 235 times. The camaraderie I shared with my brothers and sisters in those years is very special to me. They called me “the professor.” At the time I weighed 135lbs and you would never have mistaken me for a body builder. But I was part of a team, and we all did the jobs we were trained for in harmony. It was the teamwork and dedication that inspired me.


There is a saying in emergency services that I like, “We run towards things that other people run away from.” So . . . a great big, heartfelt shout out to all people who put their lives on the line without hesitation in the service of others.

All firehouses, career and volunteer, have a kitchen. Career firefighters have shifts that last for 24 hours, several days in a row, and they must live and take their meals at the firehouse during that time. Occasionally volunteer firefights also live at the firehouse, for example, during times of extended bad weather when driving to the firehouse would be hazardous. But volunteer firehouses also need kitchens for times when the squad is called out for a structural fire, or other extended duty, when it is necessary to provide meals for people on site. A structure fire may take a day or more to bring under control.

That firefighters love chili is a slightly overworked cliché, but it is based in reality. So I’ll present you here with my recipe. Nothing starts an argument faster that just about every aspect of chili, including the spelling of the word. In the U.K. it is often “chilli” and in the U.S. sides are divided between “chili” and “chile.” I’m not going to get in the middle of this one, but simply state that I use “chili” for the dish, and “chile” for the hot peppers that go into it. There are also endless disputes about the ingredients of chili – with or without beans is a big one. Tomatoes or not? Chunked or ground meat? Beef or another meat? What spices? All are arguments that get some people hot under the collar, but I can’t be bothered with them. I make chili the way I like it, and it happens to be close to what is usually called “firehouse chili” in the U.S.  I do also make Cincinnati chili but that’s a story for another day.

I won’t give you a formal recipe because, as with all soups and stews, I don’t ever measure anything, and ingredients can vary. It’s not really feasible to make a small amount.  I usually make a batch of at least a gallon. It freezes well, but I rarely have to.  I can eat a gallon in 2 days, no worries. Here are the basics.


Firehouse Chili

Bring beef stock to a simmer in a stock pot. It should be around ¼ full.

Use a dry skillet to brown ground beef in a skillet. Make sure you break up any clumps of meat. Add the browned beef to the stock.

Add a little vegetable oil to the skillet and gently sauté coarsely chopped onions until golden. For the last minute or so add finely chopped garlic, but do not let it brown otherwise it will be bitter. Add the onions and garlic to the stock.

Add roughly chopped canned tomatoes and tomato paste to the stock along with chopped green or red bell peppers, hot peppers to suit your tastes, cumin, oregano, paprika, and parsley.

It’s your choice whether to add beans at this stage. I do. They can be canned or pre-cooked. It really does not matter what beans you choose. I usually use pinto beans, but I find black beans make a nice change.

Simmer gently, uncovered, for an hour or more. Over time the stock will reduce and thicken. You do not want the final product to be watery.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread or flour tortillas.