A firehouse Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a holiday of traditions, and that's no different for Lake Oswego firefighters whose call of duty prevents them from being able to celebrate with friends and family in the traditional way.
Just ask Battalion Chief Greg Barnum.
After 18 years with the LOFD, Barnum has spent a handful of Thanksgivings at the Main Fire Station on B Avenue instead of relaxing at home. So have most of his colleagues. But Barnum says they always find a way to bring a little taste of home to the station.
"The hard thing about traditions is consistency, and we don't have consistency," he says. "Each year, Thanksgiving is a different shift. We might be working one year and not the next. So what we do is always invite family to come celebrate at the fire station."
Each Thanksgiving, the LOFD staffs each station with three to four people, including a lieutenant, a driver-engineer and a firefighter who are on call through the holiday. But add a deep-fried turkey or one smoked on a wood-fired grill, invite each firefighter's family and voila, you've got yourself a firehouse Thanksgiving.
"It's absolutely a special moment," Barnum says. "Our lives are based around here. We're here with our team for about a third of our life. So when we talk about our team, that's family. We're one family and we're really close."
According to Barnum, Lake Oswego's firefighters live in communities across the metro area. He lives in Oregon City, but his partners on the job might live in Newberg or Vancouver. That means their families don't get to see each other all that often, he says, so coming together for the occasional Thanksgiving shift is like seeing cousins who live in different parts of the country.
When you get together again after a few years, Barnum says, things just fall back into place and you pick up right where you left off.
There is, of course, the chance that firefighters might get pulled away from their Thanksgiving celebration to go out on a call — and those calls, Barnum says, are usually Thanksgiving-related.
"We have had the ironic moment of going out on a call for a deep-fryer accident while we were about to drop our turkey into the deep-fryer," Barnum says. "The tones went off and I looked at my wife and was like, 'You're going to have to time it and cook this thing.'"
That particular year, Barnum and crew received back-to-back calls, but they were able to return just in time for dinner to be ready.
Often, using the deep-fryer at the fire station turns into a bit of an educational display for the public, Barnum says.
"We'll be in the bay with the fryer and (all the fire equipment) pulled out, and people will walk by and see that. A lot of times, they'll knock on the door and tell us how cool that is, so we'll talk to them about safety and other concerns — proper use, that type of thing," he says.
One of his biggest tips to would-be turkey fryers is to measure with water before putting the oil in. First, fill the deep-fryer with water and insert the turkey to see how much the level rises when the turkey is added. Then, dump out the water, dry the inside and the turkey to make sure there is no water. Finally, fill the fryer with oil to the level where the water was to avoid spillage and oil lapping over the sides.
One of Barnum's other tips is to make sure the turkey is fully thawed before dropping it into the oil.
"If the turkey is frozen, they don't know there's a pocket of water in there and it explodes," he says. "Water and oil mixing together creates the exploding. When they first came out, there were fires all the time. It was horrible."
Despite the occasional holiday-related call, though, Barnum and the rest of Lake Oswego's firefighters say they have a tender spot for the traditions that bring them and their families closer — traditions that even an unparalleled sense of duty can't spoil.