Many Ideas Sandwiched Into Good Canteen Service
In some Midwest cities, when a weary fire fighter makes his way to a buff club’s canteen after a “worker,” and is asked “What’ll you have?”, his reply is likely to be, “Got any brandy?”. That’s not on the menu yet ….but otherwise, if you can eat it or drink it, chances are buffs somewhere are serving it on the fire line.
The Jersey City Gong Club doled out 8 gallons of chili during 1973. In Chicago, fried chicken has sometimes been served. Baltimore’s Box 414 group, in the famous Chesapeake Bay oyster country, has served raw oysters at fires — an entire bushel on at least one occasion. Many canteens, such as that manned by Dallas’ Box 4 club, have worked out arrangements to pick up quantities of pastry on short notice from area bakeries. Elsewhere, buffs get hamburgers or hot dogs by the score from the many “fast food” restaurants which have become popular in recent years. Catering services may be employed — the staff sometimes being roused from sleep in the middle of the night to make sandwiches.
Basic item everywhere is, of course, coffee. Most of the larger canteens have their own propane or electric stoves and urns with which five gallons or more can be prepared at a time. Hot chocolate, tea, bouillon, or beef and chicken broth are also easy to fix with such equipment.
Instant beverage service
But each group has its own logistics problems. Solutions are sometimes ingenious. Washington’s Friendship Fire Association had been buying coffee already-made from a drugstore. A few years ago, they began using a new type of instant beverage service, making it possible to offer more variety while saving time in preparation. This “Bev-Maid” service uses paper cups having a powder packed into the bottom of each cup beneath a foil cover. Remove the foil, fill the cup with hot water, and the beverage is ready to drink. Chocolate and beef or chicken soup is available as well as coffee.
Cold drinks are also in demand, surprisingly so in some cold weather areas. In 1973, Milwaukee’s Fire Bell Canteen installed a soda dispensing machine from which the first cups were issued during a January third alarm in zero weather. Milk, iced tea, lemonade, and limeade are also popular cold beverages.
Doughnuts, sweet rolls, what they call “buns” in Baltimore, frequently go with the drinks. However, more substantial fare is indicated when fire fighters have had a tough battle.
Then, canteen crews will have sandwiches, hot soup, or beef stew. Some of the rigs can prepare and serve full meals to a hundred or more men for a couple of days at a stretch. This takes some equipment. The Dallas Canteen is perhaps typical, though by no means the largest.
It carries two 40-gallon butane tanks, a large grill, an 80-gallon water tank with pump, a large electric refrigerator, its own 4 kilowatt generator, plus a connection to operate from external 110-volt power.
Paying the bills
Who pays the food bills? These operations can run into big money; Chicago’s new 5-11 Club Canteen (sponsored by the Salvation Army) uses as many as 50 loaves of bread alone per month, just for making sandwiches at multiple alarms. Some fire departments have a “coffee fund” among the men, as in Washington. In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, volunteer fire companies donate what they can. The Anne Arundel Alarmers (only 25 members) also host annual pancake and sausage breakfasts as well as an “oyster and bull roast” banquet to help raise the $4000 they need each year. Candy or Christmas tree sales are used. Jersey City’s Gong Club raised $1950 one year in a raffle.
Since most buff canteens have no home base that includes food preparation facilities, often being limited in storage capacity to what can be carried on the rig itself, it takes resourcefulness to get supplies to the scene of an emergency when they are needed.
In Milwaukee, for example, Fire Bell Club workers use the commercial radio-telephone link in their canteen to order supplies or get more manpower. Often, too, they are able to get more hot or cold water, or quantities of ice for cooling drinks (one 1973 blaze in hot weather required 130 pounds), from neighborhood restaurants, taverns, or private homes.
In addition to food and drink, canteens sometimes offer dry gloves and socks, cigarettes (and dry matches!), and even plug tobacco — though the demand has fallen off in recent years. Chicago’s 5-11 bunch must hold some kind of record in this department, reporting the issue of 11,159 pairs of gloves during 1973.