Giving Back: Feasting at Fire Station No. 39

September 11th, 2001.

Where were you?

I first learned of the attacks on the Twin Towers in the pre-dawn hours, waiting for the bus to work. I lived on the beach and the cries of the seagulls overhead, haunting and lonely, echoed my sentiments.

At the time, I worked for a large stock brokerage firm. Post merger, they'd just finished a new office remodel, complete with a flat screen TV. We watched in horror as the towers fell. One of the brokers kept yelling, "It's Al-Qaeda. I swear, it's a jihad." Naively, I turned to him and said, "You're crazy!"

Then, "terrorist" was the stuff of summer blockbusters, not the cause of a national tragedy.

In my job, I routinely worked with folks in New York. They day of the attacks, I was unable to reach anyone. And the following day, in a rare occurrence, they closed the stock market. It was days before I could assess the damage.

My New York colleague at the Depository Trust Company looked up from his desk and watched as plane crashed into the building across from him. By the time I reached Lou, he was still finding shards of glass in obscure places around his desk.

Their offices destroyed, employees working for the Bank of New York were relocated all over the city. When I finally tracked down my contact, he'd been sent to an office two hours away, and routinely fought back tears.

Burned into my consciousness is this documentary by two French filmmakers. Following the life of a young fireman recruit, on 9/11, his station responded to a call at the Twin Towers. Little did they know, this was history in the making. With unlimited access, the filmmakers followed the crew into the building. Their documentary is an uncensored and an unflintching look at the firemen who were first on the scene.

Nine years later, every time I drive by a firehouse, I think about that film. And I'm moved by a desire to somehow give back.

My friend Mindy Bomonti volunteers with the WSCFF Burn Foundation and works closely with the local fire departments. She's the brainchild behind their annual firefighter calendar (a la Chippendale) and coordinates their other fundraising effforts.

In a random conversation, I told her, "I'd like to cook dinner in a firehouse."

Weeks later, she called me back, "I can make your dreams come true!"

For an upcoming auction, we put together a dinner for 12--in the firehouse. Attending the dinner would be the auction winner + 3 friends, 4 firefighters from the calendar, and 4 on duty firemen.

Much to everyone's surprise, the dinner took top dollar at the auction!

As the weeks followed, we settled on a date, selected a menu, and last night, we dined under the shadow of a fire truck.

It's not New York...but this is a start. Giving back:

First step, a site visit to Station Number 39.

This is a brand new LEED-certified station. See the tower on the right? That's used for high-rise rescue training.

Every station is different, but here, an average shift includes four firemen. Downtime at the kitchen table. See the lockers in the background?

I like this guy already!

The new Seattle fire stations are equipped with large kitchens and stainless steel appliances. I kept teasing them, "Why do four guys on shift need two full-sized refrigerators?" Pictured is my pal Mindy, the dream maker.

I poked around the cabinets to determine how much equipment to bring. Fortunately, not much.

The kitchen couldn't accommodate 12 people so I verbalized my fantasy, "Can we have dinner here?"

"Sure! Why not?"

Fireman love?


Let's take a look around...

Station 39, A shift crew.

Now...on with the dinner....

The dream takes shape...but not without a hitch. Two hours before dinner, we realized the folding tables & chairs were no longer on the premises. Scrambling for a solution, the guys moved the table from the kitchen, we grabbed every available (office) chair, and Mindy raced home to retrieve a card table and chairs.

Hitch number two? Dinner was scheduled at 6 PM. At 5:57 PM, a call came in. The on duty crew took off...and we bought time with a tour of the fire station.

Hitch number three? Surprise! When a crew is dispatched on a call, as a safety precaution, the stove automatically shuts off. It remains disabled until the crew comes back. Fun.

While I chated with an off-duty fireman, I learned that 80% of the calls they're dispatched to...are not fire-related. And fortunately, this call fell into the 80% range. An hour later, we were back in business!

With the guys out on a call, I had time for a few photos. This is firefighter & calendar girl, Tori Shroud

A closer look at the table.

Back in the kitchen, my friend Kris Dews assembled the first course.

Spring greens dressed in red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil and herbs, topped with fresh pears. On the side, warmed crostini duo: (L-R) goat cheese & fig tapenade and cambozola with roasted pears.

First snow of the season called for comfort food. Baked pasta with braised pork sugo and a crusty topping of bread crumbs and Parmagiano-Reggiano. We served it with a side of oven-baked yams, tossed in olive oil and fresh rosemary.

Inspired by the season, for dessert... a luscious chocolate stout cake, pumpkin creme anglaise, homemade bourbon ice cream, topped with a dusting of crushed nuts. (The nuts were a last-minute inspiration, sent in a holiday care package from Starbucks. They're featured in Starbucks' holiday line up: macadamia nuts coated in caramel and dusted in cocoa powder. A perfect finish to this dessert.)

And for the grand finale...a group shot! In uniform are the B crew firemen from Station 39. My buddy Mindy is there on the right. Back row includes the auction winners and 2 of the calendar firemen. That's Tori in the front row.