Fueling up at the Fire Station
There are certain jobs that children and adults alike gravitate toward. Do we know what a ballerina or a fashion designer does every day? No, but surely it must be more compelling than becoming a glorified paper pusher.
Firefighters top everyone’s dream job list: While most of us aren’t physically fit or mentally gutsy enough to make battling blazes a career choice, there are fewer gigs that resonate so strongly across gender, partisan and generational lines. And we’d all like to think we’d be capable.
Edible recently peeked inside Saratoga Spring’s historic fire department headquarters at 60 Lake Street to get a taste of a firefighter’s typical day.
A volunteer fire department was established in Saratoga Springs in 1826, but since 1883, the city has supported a paid force. With about 4,500 calls to the fire department a year and an 8% increase in call volume annually (a few years ago the call volume tripled when the SSFD took over EMS duties for the town), there is never a dull moment. The town is 29 square miles, and while the population spikes from 29,000 to 70,000 to 80,000 during peak track season, Saratoga Springs has become a year-round destination for tourists, and with it, the type of ER drama normally associated with much larger cities.
“We used to be able to count on two months of high call volume every year during racing season, but now it’s pretty steady year round,” Daniel Van Cott, a Saratoga Springs firefighter says. These days, many calls come at night, and often “just as we sit down for dinner,” Mr. Van Cott admits. In which case, warm suppers are abandoned, and the firefighters hop on one of the five working fire poles that bring them from the second floor to the garage. And yes, they actually do use those poles like you see in the movies. They make it out of the station within 60 seconds, Mr. Van Cott says.
The work habits of the fire department are structured in a straightforward, if rarely predictable, manner: There are four steady crews of 13 to 14 firefighters who work on 24-hour shifts, with a 72-hour break in between. Many of them have been working together for a decade or more, and crews become “second families,” Mr. Van Cott explains.
“When we’re on call, we do everything together,” Mr. Van Cott says. “We cook, eat, work and rest together. We even pool our money and go grocery shopping together. We all move in a unit anytime there is an errand to run, and we bring the truck, which has all of our equipment and serves as a mobile emergency room. Sometimes people think we’re being wasteful when we bring the fire truck to the grocery store, but we have to do it in order to respond to any emergency call we get on the road. We’ve even assisted people with medical emergencies in the grocery store while we were there.”
When the firefighters are not working, they’re training or taking workshops at the fire station. To fuel all of the activity, the firefighters cook and eat together, though not with the high-fat, deep-fried gusto one might expect.
“We have to stay in shape to be able to do our jobs,” he says. “And heart disease is the number one killer of firefighters, so we try to keep our choices healthy.”
So what’s in the kitchen? Mr. Van Cott gave Edible a tour.
Each crew has its own pantry and mini-fridge, with one larger fridge shared by the whole department, harboring, when Edible peeked, water, milk, a few condiments and some fresh fruit and vegetables. “We haven’t gone shopping for the week yet,” Mr. Van Cott explained.
Edible Capital District: I see a lot of locally produced products like Saratoga Olive Oil and Original Saratoga Potato Chips in there.
SSFD: We try to support our locals, when we can—they support us, too, and their stuff is better than anything else out there.
ECD: And gourmet brownie mix! Who bakes?
SSFD: That’s been in there for a while! It was for a birthday, but then we got called out, so we never ended up making them.
ECD: There are a lot of canned beans in there, too. For chili?
SSFD: Yep, but beans are pretty versatile. It’s easy protein and beans go with everything.
ECD: They do! Where do you get your groceries?
SSFD: Price Chopper. We make a list together before we go, with general ideas for what we want to make that week—pasta, chicken, chili, depending on the season. Sometimes once we get there, our plan changes depending on what’s on special that week.
ECD: What happens when you don’t have time to cook?
SSFD: We cook as much as we can. We cook so much here, we often end up doing the cooking at home, too. But sometimes it doesn’t happen. One day, we tried to go to the store four times and ended up on calls each time. We finally gave up and ordered a pizza. We try to rotate our orders so everyone gets business, but we often order from John at Roma’s, Marino’s Pizza and Mama Mia’s.
ECD: What’s your ideal dinner?
SSFD: Grilled chicken. It’s healthy, easy, fast and filling.
ECD: You guys are good. Do you have any go-to bad snacks you indulge in?
SSFD: Chips, freeze pops, cookies. But we really try to limit the cookies.
Saving lives and limiting cookie intake. We can’t all be that good. But we can support their community outreach.
To find out more about SSFD’s kid-friendly open houses, Veterans Day 5K and holiday events, follow them on Facebook: Facebook.com/pages/ Saratoga-Springs-Fire-Fighters-Local-343.