Even on Christmas, two things are always true. One: anything can happen. And two: many things that always happen… continue to happen.
As such, some jobs never stop, not even for the holidays. People still need to fill their cars up with gas. Accidents happen, injuries occur, people get sick, and people stay sick. Crime never ceases. Fires remain a constant threat.
Case and point: the Con Agra beef plant fire in 2000 on Christmas day. Garden City Fire Department Battalion Chief Ken Seirer has been a firefighter in Garden City since 1995, and he remembers being called in on Christmas day to help put out the blaze that took 18 hours to extinguish and left 2,300 people without jobs. That was a Christmas many locals will not soon forget and one that left a lasting impression on the region’s workforce.
Seirer says the amount of calls that come in on any given holiday are totally random and hard to predict. “It’s like Fourth of July,” he said. “Sometimes we run a couple calls, and sometimes we run 40 calls.”
This year, things were calmer. Just in case, though, seven firefighters remained on duty at the central fire station in Garden City to be ready in the event that duty called. But even though they were on the clock, the guys didn’t forget the spirit of the holidays, and things at the fire department got festive with some culinary dabbling that kept their professional attention for at least the first half of the day with no outside interruptions.
Now seven men in the kitchen may sound like a pretty bad idea to many local women who might know better, but not to worry. These men are trained, and if the green bean casserole becomes a tin bed of white hot flames, they can do what they do best: put out the fire.
It was Brandon Carmichael’s first time making green bean casserole, and he seemed a little skeptical as he loaded on the cream of mushroom soup. But as he put finishing touches on the pastiche of milk, green beans, mushrooms and French-fried onions with black pepper, the possibility remained that he could be a chef in the making.
Carmichael, Seirer, Jon Irsik, John Bemis, Josh Delehant, Jeff Babcock and Andy Crittenden were all charged with keeping Garden City residents safe on Christmas. None were strangers to working on Christmas day, which for many of the guys is just another day at work. Even Babcock, the new guy who has been the new guy for maybe over a year now, takes the task in stride.
Together, they were getting Christmas supper ready for as many as 30 of their family members and friends to enjoy later in the afternoon. In addition to Carmichael’s green bean casserole, guests would be treated to brisket, mashed potatoes, turkey, creamed corn, a cheese ball, a meat tray, a fruit tray, a veggie tray, mac n’ cheese, deviled eggs, cheesecake, cherry pie, blueberry pie, raspberry pie — maybe more.
Some of the gadgets they use in the field even come in handy in the kitchen, or at least at the grill, where Delehant employs a thermal energy camera — usually used to detect people in an inferno — to check the brisket’s temperature. It was 165 degrees.
After cooking the brisket for five hours in a glaze of brown sugar, chili powder and garlic, it took three men to carefully move the 19-pound monstrosity from the grill and transport it into the kitchen, a task to which they dedicated the same teamwork they use on a daily basis to keep Garden City folks safe.
As for the remainder of the food, the guys are lucky they’ve got a new kitchen double the size of what they had available last Christmas. The renovations to the kitchen and the rest of the central fire station were part of a $1.7 million project completed in late summer and intended to ready the facility for the next few decades and the changes that inevitably will come with them.
A new living area, kitchen, workout room, dormitories, office space, bathrooms, study space, meeting room, laundry facility and apparatus bay access are all intended to make the fire station both more effective and homely for the men who often stay there night and day. Crittenden hid down in the exercise room to, as he said, “work off the Christmas fluff.”
But it’s not all fun and games.
Even on Christmas, the firefighters have to get going at 8 a.m. and check the fire trucks for 45 minutes to an hour before washing the vehicles outside the apparatus bay — pretty much everything but the fire trucks — and standing by for calls. A firefighter also heads out to the local airport three times a day to monitor commercial flight landings and takeoffs.
Seirer explained that carbon monoxide calls have been more common lately with the wintertime uptick in furnace-related incidents. He added that Christmastime shopping traffic also has resulted in more accidents, even though the actual day of Christmas oftentimes leaves the roadways empty to an almost ghostly degree.
“There’s no pattern to anything,” Seirer said.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.