BETHANY BEACH, Del. (AP) — Firefighters are busy people. Whether they're out taking care of fires, or taking care of business during their monthly meetings and drills, they're always on the move.
So when do they get the time to eat, and how are they eating?
For Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company firefighters, it's a tradition dating back to at least the late '90s for the company's Ladies Auxiliary to cook for the firefighters, according to auxiliary President Karen Lett.
The group of women regularly prepares three Monday meals a month for the firefighters: A meal for 40 for after the company's monthly business meeting and two meals for 20 for when fire and EMS drills take place.
And whenever there is severe weather that requires emergency responders to man the station around the clock, the group of about 22 women pitches in and helps them with their dinner needs, sometimes during the course of multiple days.
"All they really have time for is quick," said auxiliary member Kristen Steele. "This gives them the option of having a home-cooked meal."
While the auxiliary meets as an organization from March through October, it serves meals year-round. In March, they'll plan out who will prepare and serve meals for the year, usually in groups of three. Those assigned to the specific night choose what they will cook.
In the last two or three years, there has been a push by the auxiliary to provide healthier choices to the firefighters.
"I asked them in a meeting one month that, 'If we did healthier things for you, would you actually eat them or do you just want the junk stuff?'" Lett said. "And I sent around the list and asked them if anyone had any suggestions, and they filled it out. They gave us some good ideas."
The group will still occasionally bring in food from local restaurants, which as a contribution to the fire company, offer discounted menu items, but a larger emphasis has been placed on entrees that members cook themselves.
"You can't just say, 'Here's salad and green beans and turkey meatloaf,'" Steele said. "You have to gradually work it in a little bit."
Recent menu headliners have included oven baked pork tenderloins with cheese grits, chicken and noodles, baked ham and hash brown potato casserole, chili and pork chops with apples and onions.
"We've been trying to move the food to healthier choices so it's not carbohydrate-laden," Steele said. "Really, because they do so much cardiac training and stuff, they really need healthy choices, versus just pizza or subs."
On Feb. 10, the main course was a ham and bean soup that Lett began to prepare at her home before bringing it to the station's kitchen. Some members decide to cook in the station's kitchen, equipped with commercial appliances that can feed a crowd of up to 60, she said. But for Lett, this time around it was easier to start at home.
"It's hearty, it's healthy and I could make it during the weekend," she said about the soup. "And they like it."
About an hour before the company's 7:30 p.m. meeting, Lett arrived with four slow cookers and a large pot filled with the soup, ready for its finishing touches. Lett added raw chicken in the pots that would cook quickly in the already hot soup. Fellow auxiliary members Jolene Barthel and Linda Maxwell helped prepare the meal, which also included salad, bread, apple and caramel cakes and ice cream.
Once the meeting — which ran about 90 minutes — ended, the firefighters came down to the kitchen and served themselves dinner.
Fire Company Vice President Tyler Hickman, a member of the company for 13½ years, said the firefighters are grateful for what the women provide, as well as the transition to healthier food.
"In the past, it would be a pile of pizzas and eating them at 10 or 11 o'clock at night is not that great," he said. "It's nice to see the healthier (food). It is really appreciated that they do this for us."
Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/