Stephen Hamway
The Bulletin

For many, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family and celebrate with a warm meal and good tidings. But for on-duty firefighters, staying home isn’t an option, so at the Bend Fire Department, they bring the family and food into the fire station.

By midafternoon Thursday, the half-dozen firefighters working at Bend’s west fire station on SW Simpson Drive were busy putting the finishing touches on the station’s Thanksgiving feast.

Firefighters double-checked the temperature of two different turkeys — one in the oven and another on an outdoor barbecue — chopped and roasted Brussels sprouts and sprinkled cayenne pepper on deviled eggs in the station’s kitchen. Wives, children and mothers watched football and played in the next room while the firefighters worked.

As the annual feast was being prepared, the threat of getting dispatched to a fire or another emergency and leaving the food abandoned loomed large.

“We eat a lot of cold food,” said Battalion Chief David Russell.

Station Capt. Justin Struhs said the firefighters prepare a Thanksgiving meal every year, though the timing depends on how the 48-hour shifts fall each year. Struhs said different fire stations handle the holiday differently. Some hold a communal feast on the day before Thanksgiving, which gives them the opportunity to enjoy leftovers when the actual holiday hits.

Struhs said cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year was an all-day affair. It began in the morning by preparing pancakes and cookies for the kids and ended when two firefighters pulled a smoked turkey out of the oven after 4:30 p.m.

Due to the long shifts, Russell said the crew often cooks dinner at the station and each firefighter has his own specialty. On Thanksgiving and other big holidays, however, each firefighter brings a particular dish to the table.

“For a big meal like this, we all just pitch in,” Struhs said.

Some meals go more smoothly than others, however. Russell told a story of a Christmas dinner at Bend’s east side fire station, where the chief bought prime rib for dinner. The whole crew got an emergency call 60 miles east of Bend. By the time the crew got back to the station, three hours had passed and the meat was bone dry.

“Our families had all eaten and left,” Russell said. “It’s just what happens.”

While interruptions are common, the holiday meals still provide a fleeting chance for families to spend the holidays with their loved ones. Nicole McCool said her husband’s job as a firefighter sometimes requires adjustments, including eating holiday dinners on other nights to accommodate the challenging schedule.

“It’s kind of hard to get used to at first just because traditions are so set in stone for most people,” she said. “But when you’re in a fire family, it’s something that you just have to get used to.”

For Kevin Dieker, a firefighter and paramedic with the fire department, Thursday represented his first day back to work in Bend after spending 11 days in Northern California to help fight the Camp Fire, which has burned more than 150,000 acres, destroyed more than 18,000 structures and killed more than 80 people. Dieker, one of a handful of Bend firefighters to work on the California wildfire, got back to Oregon on Tuesday, giving him a day to see family and recover from fighting the blaze before going back to work in Bend.

“It’s definitely nice to be back for Thanksgiving,” he said, “and see my family.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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