Lessons Learned from a Firefighter’s Sausage Fest

By Anne Gagliano

So what is the big deal about Sausage Fest anyway?  Why, you may wonder, am I going on and on about it?  I’m impressed with Sausage Fest 2014 for many reasons, and I believe the lessons I learned have far-reaching implications for firefighters and their families everywhere, not just here in Seattle.  When firefighters gather, magic happens; when firefighters and their families gather at the homes of incredibly gifted hosts, the magic is compounded a thousand fold.

My husband Mike and I just got back from FDIC 2014 (which was awesome; it’s like Disneyland for firefighters), and while there I had several people tell me they wish they could go to Sausage Fest.  We even ran in to a couple at a recent Seattle Fire retirement party that told me they were so bummed when they realized, while in Las Vegas, they were missing Sausage Fest!  That’s how fun it is!  For those of you out there wishing you could come to Leroy and Lynda Sisley’s Sausage Fest, I have news for you: You don’t have to fly all the way to Seattle to experience this. You can recreate the magic right where you live, with your own firefighters, and here’s how you can and why you should.

It begins with the hosts, with incredibly creative and thoughtful people like Leroy and Lynda Sisley.  Hosts that are willing to donate their time and efforts and open their homes to their beloved firefighter family.  I know that Leroy and Lynda are exceptional and rare, but I still believe that every department out there has them, as the fire service draws such people.  You can start small with your gathering, and with a little effort and a lot of firefighter spirit, your event can grow as the Sisley’s has.  This year they had 150 people who brought 1,300 pounds of meat and donated $700 to the Seattle Fire Bagpipers.  They did not charge admission, although they could have and people still would have come; instead, all expenses they covered out of their own pockets.  When I saw them at the retirement party they were so excited by these columns, as they hoped to use them to get sponsors for next year’s event.  I assumed they wanted sponsors to help them cover the enormous costs, but no, they hoped the sponsors would help them raise even more funds for the bagpipers!  The generous nature of these folks astounds me; but I can assure you, this spirit can be found in a fire department near you; it is simply how firefighters and their families are.  All they need is an outlet, an opportunity, and a cause, and they’ll be there.

The next step in creating a sensational gathering is to have a project, such as making sausage.  Having a project breaks down barriers as it builds camaraderie.  Often at parties you find that you have nothing in common with people attending; but a project changes everything.  Suddenly relative strangers go from feeling awkward and having nothing to talk about to chatting freely and easily about “the project.”  You’re all in this together and you’re all creating something fun and tasty!  It doesn’t have to be sausage, though sausage is, hands down, the most unique reason to party I’ve ever encountered.  Socializing with a plan of some kind keeps the conversation going as the group strives toward a common goal.  You experience teamwork as on the fireground, and through this shared experience you develop humor on a new level.  Inside jokes—are there any better?  The turmoil, strife, and triumph of creating something (like sausage) forms a bond that lasts a lifetime and makes reconnecting next time all the easier.

The nature of firefighters truly gets to shine at a gathering such as this. Many came together to make this happen.  Firefighters helped set up the tables, lent supplies and machines, and donated their expertise to help out (such as Smokey Simpson did in teaching us how to make links).  Many SFD firefighters helped out, including almost all of the Ladder 5, B-Shift crews. It takes many willing hands to make a sensational gathering, and no workplace has more of them than your local fire department. 

But it doesn’t end with just firefighters.  Because of this gathering we got to socialize with folks we normally don’t ever get to see, people who love firefighters and support them behind the scenes.  At Sausage Fest I was introduced to folks from the M.I.S. Department that work with Lynda Sisley, the Fire Marshal’s office, finance, services, and many other administrative departments that keep SFD going.  Sausage breaks down all barriers and brings folks together; a party with a project—love of food, fun, and firefighters is all that is needed to attend.  Pick your food, or pick your project, and you too can create such an event.

But the biggest lesson of all, the point I wish to hit home above all others is this: At Sausage Fest we got to see the firefighter family acting like family.  What is family?  People who share a bond, people who care about each other, people who get together and enjoy one another.  Families pitch in, share resources, eat together, and laugh.  They create lasting memories.  They take pictures.  They establish traditions.  And, most importantly, they know who to turn to in times of trouble.  At gatherings such as Sausage Fest, we loved ones get to see firsthand who our firefighters work with and, even better, we get to see how they work—as a team.  Our loved ones never face danger alone.  This helps us sleep at night, knowing that our firefighters are surrounded by the best of the best, other capable and caring people who will risk all to save them if need be—just like family.         


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 29 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.



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