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Hot time in the old town



Selma firefighter Myron Fiedler prepares a casserole made with ground beef mixed with pork & beans, and macaroni & cheese for dinner for himself and another firefighter as the four-person crew prepares to sit down to eat. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

When they're not busy answering calls, the city's firefighters cook up a mean meal

Morgan Hammond likes to eat a lot of eggs, oatmeal, and protein sources, including meat. He eats the whites of eight hardboiled eggs every morning, to put on muscle mass. It is best to call him by his nickname, "Moe," because he bench presses more than 400 pounds, three times a week.

Moe is a firefighter and emergency medical technician on the C Shift of the Selma Fire and Rescue department, commanded by Lieutenant Mario Troncoso. Toni Schmidt and Myron Fiedler also work that shift, fighting house fires, interstate auto accidents, and the Ozzfest at Verizon Amphitheater in this city of 5.5 square miles and 680 souls.

Fiedler, a Navy reservist, likes meat and potatoes. One of his favorite recipes includes hamburger meat, pork, and beans, with ketchup. Troncoso occasionally cooks up an egg pizza, involving flattened biscuit dough, a dozen eggs, and cooked breakfast sausage flattened out to resemble pepperoni, with picante sauce poured over the top. "It's not very healthy," he says, but everybody likes it, and he planned to cook it for their shift on Thanksgiving Day.

Schmidt is more discerning. She likes lots of chicken, fish, and other seafood, as well as dandelion leaves and spring mix, stuff other fire fighters generally avoid. "I don't want them cooking for me," said Schmidt, who helped Troncoso drop his weight from 277 pounds to 223 pounds with her cooking skills. Troncoso, who hails from a large Latino family in Cibolo, is in the habit of buying a half case of jumbo brown eggs (16 dozen) from Featherland Farms.

From left: Selma Firefighter Myron Fiedler looks on as his crew mates Toni Schmidt and Mario Trancoso, enjoy a dinner of stir-fried shrimp, scallops, and asparagus, with red-skinned potatos and fresh orange slices. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
"We try to eat healthy until the holidays come around," says Troncoso. When it comes to cooking in the firehouse, "your imagination is your limitation."

Firehouse cooking is a sort of catch as catch can method in the various fire stations in South Central Texas. Cadets in the San Antonio Fire Department's training academy do not receive any formal culinary or nutrition training, says Chief Randy Jenkins, public affairs officer with SAFD. "When a person gets assigned to a station, they get put on a cooking rotation. It's possible for everybody to cook when the time comes. Some people are gourmet cooks, some are meat and potatoes, and some become the station chef, but you have to be a good cook."

SAFD firefighters, who work 24 hours on, 48 off shifts at the city's 49 fire stations, are usually served breakfast, but are on their own for lunch and dinner, if they are not fighting fires or answering EMS calls. Firefighters are paid a house expense stipend, and they usually kick in money to a food fund; every station has its own method of feeding the force. Personnel in this Tex-Mex country see a lot of fajitas, rice, and beans, and other local fare.

When 27-year veteran Tom Robles was at Station No. 1 downtown, the guys had a saying: "RBA," which means "rice and beans, again." But nowadays, the guys on the C Shift at Station No. 47, on the IH-10 frontage road north of Camp Bullis Road, are lucky to have Robles on their shift. He is, in the words of Lieutenant Weldon Lister, "very sophisticated. He's not your typical firehouse cook, not your typical fireman."

Paula Chicken Parmesan
Feeds five or so firefighters

6 to 8 chicken breasts (flattened a little)
Fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
(do not use the stuff in the green can)
2 large onions, chopped
4 zucchini, cut bite-size
2 yellow bell peppers
1/2 can No. 10 whole tomatoes
(smashed up by hand)
Tomato paste to taste
1-1/4 c artichoke hearts
1/2 c sliced black olives
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic
Red pepper flakes

Sauté onion until translucent. Add zucchini, and season with salt, red pepper, and oregano. Do not let squash get soft. Set aside. Boil fettucine. Add a few tablespoons olive oil to a skillet. Coat chicken breasts with parmesan, and lay them gently into the hot oil. Cook carefully on both sides for four minutes each. Don't flip them over and over, or they will lose the cheese. Add tomato paste to crushed tomatoes to achieve desired thickness. Add bell pepper and artichoke hearts and cook a little longer. Serve chicken on bed of fettucine, garnished with black olives. Serve with garlic bread.
Robles and his wife Paula operate Fire House Catering, and he plans to cook full-time once he retires from the fire department. "We try not to do breakfast tacos," Robles said recently as he prepared a special recipe of chicken Parmesan for his shift. Instead, Robles will cook up Belgian waffles with strawberries, original recipe French toast, or Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce. "The struggle is with the electric stove," he said as he sautéed onions in olive oil. And there is the danger of beginning a meal, only to have the alarm bells go off. "At No. 1, we got a call with steaks on the grill. We came back and they were charred as badly as a house." It took him about one-and-a-half hours to cook a unique, tasty "chicken Parmesan Paula," sans breading, and to load up the dinner plates with an accompanying fettucine.

"I've never eaten anything bad that Tommy cooks," says Lister. "I used to weigh 100 pounds."

Robles says if a firefighter doesn't cook, he or she can clean up. "One guy at Station No. 43 never wanted to cook, so he would do the dishes. I would use as many dishes as possible to irritate him."

In south Bexar County, the Sandy Oaks Volunteer Fire Department on Hardy Road doesn't do much regular cooking, since no one works in 24-hour shifts. "It's pretty much grab what you can," says Chief Charles Metzger, who oversees 26 volunteer firefighters. "But when there is something going on, we bring out our resident cook."

When he is not chasing brush fires or answering calls to accident scenes on IH-37, Lieutenant Roy Daniels operates Daddy Roy's BBQ & Catering. "I specialize in barbeque. Brisket is the most popular around here." He also serves barbequed chicken and kiolbassa. When someone goes fishing and bring back tuna, shark, and redfish from the coast, they go on the grill.

Daniels shared his recipe for hot wings, in which he grills wings instead of frying them, and he doctors the Frank's Red Hot sauce to make it a little thicker. The pastor of his church used the recipe when he set up a food booth at the recent Poteet Strawberry Festival.

The style of cooking in the region's varied firehouses is as diverse as the many neighborhoods they serve. Some get gourmet, some get barbecue, and some get RBA - rice and beans, again.

By Michael Cary

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