By Frank E. Vaerewyck, The Firehouse Foodie
It's very dark; it's hot, unbearably hot to most people; and the equipment is heavy and cumbersome. The voices around you are muffled, and every breath your fellow crew members take in their masks can be heard as if it were your own. You’re in a hurry, but everything is moving so slowly. You're on your hands and knees, or crouched in such a way to move as fast as you can, but you have to stay low. The clean air, the cooler air, is down near the floor. Since heat rises, the temperatures, even at what would normally be head level, are enough to melt your helmet or burn your gear. You are attentively listening for the crackles, looking for the glow, blinded by the darkness, even on the brightest day; you listen and feel your way deep inside the unknown. Will the floor be there ahead? Will you feel a limp, unresponsive body? Will you come upon the glow that is devouring everything in its path?
That's when the fun begins.
No one wants anyone to experience the damaging effects of a fire, but we as firefighters want to be there to put it out, to minimize the damage, and to do our best to salvage as much of the citizens’ normal life as we can. We have a saying “put the wet stuff on the red stuff," and in a way it really is that simple, but there is a science to this job. The nozzle opens, and the water pushes out with such force that without a firm grip the hoseline would be lost and whip wildly around violently. The nozzleman sprays toward the base of the fire in predetermined patterns to disrupt the thermal layers of superheated gases and puts out the fire. This all takes place in a matter of minutes; it’s not a long, drawn-out process like you see in the movies. You can't always see the fire, and everyone works as a team. There are no cowboys who save the day singlehanded while the rest of us sit and watch. This is what it’s like to be a firefighter. When we're done with picking up all the hose and cleaning up our equipment, we like to eat to help replenish the energy lost. This protein-packed, energy replenishing dish helps "Bring the Firehouse Home."
Southwestern Beef Pot Roast
• 1 beef bottom round roast (3-4 lbs.)
• 2 tsp. vegetable oil
• 2 tsp. ground cumin
• 1 jar (16 oz.) prepared thick and chunky style salsa
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. pepper
• 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
• 1 1/2 cups frozen corn (optional)
1. Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat until hot.
2. Press cumin evenly onto all surfaces of roast.
3. Brown roast in hot oil on all sides. Pour off drippings.
4. Season roast with salt and pepper; add salsa.
5. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly, and simmer 2 1/2 to 3 1/4 hours or until roast is fork-tender.
6. Remove roast from pan; keep warm.
7. Skim fat from cooking liquid.
8. Stir in beans and corn; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 8 to 10 minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened.
9. Carve roast into thin slices. Serve with bean mixture.
Frank Vaerewyck has had a passion for the fire service that has spanned 20 years. He has been a volunteer and career firefighter and is currently a firefighter/EMT with the Manassas (VA) Volunteer Fire Company. He has passed on his passion for the fire service through instruction and mentorship. That same passion he has for the fire service is shared with his love of food. In 2006, Vaerewyck won an Iron Chef-style competition sponsored by a radio station in Richmond, Virginia. That is where he also furthered his education by attending a Culinary Arts Program.
As the Firehouse Foodie, he has been compiling recipes to be included in a cookbook that will give others the opportunity to see their hometown heroes not just as firefighters, but as the firehouse chefs they truly are.