While police
officers are known as the city’s finest, firefighters are known as the city’s
hottest, and not just due to the nature of their profession. On the low,
firefighters are known for their cooking skills. There are books, competitions,
restaurants and TV shows devoted to “firehouse” cuisine. So, what are the
hottest of the Winston-Salem Fire Department cooking and eating?

Doug Simmons, an
engineer at Station 2 on Somerset Drive, admits that when he started with WSFD,
he didn’t really know how to cook.

“I was a terrible
cook, a typical bachelor,” he remembers.

“Mac and cheese and
hot dogs,” Simmons says. “All you need to know how to do that is boil water.”

Fortunately, he
knew how to grill a steak and that was a start to his passion for cooking.

Today, Simmons is a
married man who started at Winston-Salem 18 years ago after a stint as a
volunteer with the Clemmons Fire Department.

“When I got hired
on in Winston-Salem, I learned that most of the stations have some form of a cooking
rotation,” he says.

One person shops,
buys groceries and divides the cost amongst those working the shift. There’s a
schedule with everyone’s name listed and they’re checked off as they pay.
Simplicity and economics win over everything. $2 meals are common. Steak (if
it’s on sale), mashed potatoes and green beans are a perennial favorite.

This week, Simmons makes
fried chicken, brown-sugar sweet potatoes and apple-cider collard greens.  He cuts boneless, skinless chicken breasts
into strips and marinates them in Texas Pete hot sauce for four hours, breads
them in seasoned flour, an egg wash and dips them in flour a second time for that
thick, crisp crunch. Frying them in batches with a deep fryer on the counter,
Simmons explains the kitchen rotation at the station.

Fried chicken tenders, brown sugar and butter sweet potatoes, apple cider vinegar collard greens by Doug Simmons (photo by Nikki Miller-Ka)

Four to eight guys
take a rotation. The meal is usually a group decision. The less expensive, the
better.

“Everybody has a
dish that they’re really good at,” he says. “One guy does taco salad every
time. Another does spaghetti.”

A lot of Simmons’
inspiration comes from a Facebook group for firefighters.

Once,
Simmons grilled whole pineapples and stuffed them with fried rice, chicken,
grilled pineapple chunks and garnished it with sesame seeds and a sweet and
sour ponzu sauce.

For simpler dishes,
Simmons likes cheeseburgers but adds his own flair.

Simmons mixes in
Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, or whatever is on-hand with minced onion,
garlic, and steak seasoning.

“I like to knock
the ground beef flavor out of it,” he says.

For side dishes, he
likes to keep it simple: tater tots, French fries or pasta salad. In the
summertime, he adds homemade ice cream to the mix. Vanilla, chocolate,
strawberry, pineapple and peach are favorites.

A typical shift
week at the firehouse is 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Lots of guys volunteer
or work at other fire departments on their days off and quite a few have second
jobs. Simmons works construction on his days off, so does Mason Smith.

BBQ Chicken, grilled squash, rice pilaf cooked by a firefighter (photo provided by Mason Smith)

Smith, an engineer with
Rescue 1, which operates out of Station 7 on Arbor Road, actually went to
culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Charleston. He matriculated alongside
Sammy Gianopoulos, owner of Gianno’s in High Point and Fratelli’s in
Winston-Salem, and George Leloudis, owner of Out West Steakhouse in
Kernersville.

“The long hours and
the schedule just got to me,” Smith says. “I have a passion for the fire
department, so I left to pursue that.”

One of Smith’s
favorite dishes to make is a Sicilian spaghetti. Charred crushed tomatoes,
sugar, red pepper flakes, basil and garlic are cooked together to make a sauce
while warmed olive oil infused with garlic, fresh basil leaves is drizzled over
the hot pasta once it’s plated and served with either blackened chicken or
grilled sausage.

Back at the
station, with the cooking done, Simmons is off kitchen duty. Winner, winner
chicken dinner at Station 2 is served. The simple meal is well-executed and
filling. As the men relax and dig into their food, I ask them what happens
after dinner.

Everyone chimes in:
“The dishes.”

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

🗲 Join The Society 🗲