Fire Station Cooking: The Polaroni

By Craig Nelson

I have been in the fire service for more than nine years. In many careers it would make me a veteran, but in the fire service I am merely entering mid-career (that may even be a little optimistic). You continually learn throughout your entire fire service career, even when you think you already know it all.

Part of that learning includes how to handle people and relationships, often in bad situations (both with the public and on our own crews). I remember as a new firefighter watching veterans and being amazed at how they handled people in tough situations in which there was no script. Some crews seemed to have an incredible ability to know what to do. Members would respond with actions that complemented each other. It was similar to watching a well-practiced professional sports team. These crews were not only experienced, but also very close. They had camaraderie. The camaraderie made them more effective at their job, and kept them safer.
Camaraderie is commonly built by training (practicing) as crews, but it can also come from a place that many don’t suspect: the kitchen.  I am older than most around my level of seniority. I came from a previous career in private industry where there is very little unity or cohesion, which gives me a unique appreciation for the fire service. Throughout my fire career, I have seen firefighters become true family members to each other, but it doesn’t happen in every crew. This is where I came up with the idea to have a monthly recipe column in Fire Engineering, with recipes from and for firefighters. I figured that a prominent fire publication known for fire training articles might also be a great place to continue the tradition of great fire station recipes.

This column will be looking for recipes from firefighters all over the country in an attempt to share them with each other. It will provide a quick introduction to the firefighter(s) submitting the recipe and their fire department. The column will also briefly describe the origins of the recipe. This could also be a great place for crews that already eat together (or rookies who often end up in the kitchen) to find new meal ideas. Rookies may not have to learn that one bad meal will haunt them their entire career. Firefighters have elephant brains when someone screws up–they will remember forever. The goals of this column are to provide meal ideas, encourage eating together (build camaraderie), and make you safer as a crew.

I was initially taught the importance of eating as a crew from Billy Bush, a more senior firefighter who could be a dead ringer for “Butterbean” (if you don’t know who “Butterbean” is, Google him). He can have an intimidating demeanor, but is a patient teacher with new firefighters. He also has a natural talent for building unity in the crews he works with. Billy has always stressed the importance of eating together, and often invents new recipes just for this purpose. 

It is important to know a little background about the person who provided this recipe. In this case, I have already provided a brief introduction to Billy. The rest of Billy’s background includes growing up in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. He was a paid-on-call firefighter there for four years. He eventually moved to take a full-time job on the Fargo (ND) Fire Department. He has been in Fargo for 14 years. Throughout his career he has been a firefighter and an apparatus driver. Billy also works part-time at the local technical college teaching future firefighters.

In honor of Billy Bush, I felt it only fair that the first recipe be one of his own creations. The “Polaroni,” as he calls it, is a beast of a sandwich. The name comes from combining two of its main ingredients, Polish sausage and pepperoni. It is very filling and full of flavor. It is a creation only a firefighter would come up with. It is quick, easy to prepare, and can be adjusted to suit your own taste by adding or removing ingredients as you prefer. The recipe serves four. You will need:

2 loaves of French bread
2 rings of Polish sausage (or your favorite sausage)
4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
1 bottle creamy Italian dressing
1 bag of pepperoni slices
1 package of bacon
1 bag of onion rings

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1. Boil the sausage in a pan for 10 minutes.

2. Fry the bacon in a pan.

3. Cook the bag of onion rings per directions on the bag.

4. Cut the French bread loaves in half, then hollow out the middle.

5. Place the sausage in the bottom half of the French bread loaf, laid out straight.

6.  Lay out the pepperoni slices next to each other down the length of the sandwich on both sides of the sausage.

7. Lay out the bacon strips on top of the pepperoni.

8. Spread the shredded cheese out on top of the bacon and pepperoni.

9. Lay the onion rings on top of the cheese, overlapping them like the Olympic rings.

10. Place in the oven with top half of bread next to the base at 350 degrees for about five minutes (until lightly toasted)

11. Remove, place the top of bread loaf on sandwich, and enjoy!

Recipe Scores

Ease of Preparation: The “Polaroni” is relatively easy to make once you have the supplies.

Time for preparation: The “Polaroni” takes about 30 minutes to prepare.
Cost: The cost for ingredients to serve four is around $30.00 or about $7.50 per person

Healthiness: The “Polaroni” is not a very healthy sandwich (it has been referred to as a heart dart), but it tastes great.

Please send potential recipe submissions, with your name, recipe, phone number, and e mail to Craig Nelson at
Craig Nelson has been in the fire service for nine years, working as a volunteer, paid-on-call, and full-time firefighter/EMT. He works for the Fargo (ND) Fire Department and works part-time at Minnesota State Community and Technical College – Moorhead as a fire instructor. He also works seasonally for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as a wildland firefighter in Northwest Minnesota. Previously he was an airline pilot. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership.

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