Spring 2012: "Eating Together" College Winner Willis Reed

Read Willis's essay about brotherhood forged around the dinner table.
Family dinner photo for Writing Lessons.jpg

Photo by Patrick Barber

Willis Reed, a student of Professor Daniel Griesbach's English 101 class at Edmonds Community College, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "You Are Who You Eat With" by Katherine Gustafson. He is our College winner for the Spring 2012 writing competition.

Writing prompt: "Does it matter who you eat with and how often you eat together?"


Brothers Around the Table


In her YES! Magazine article, “You Are Who You Eat With,” Katherine Gustafson addresses the importance of not letting the tradition of eating dinner as a family become extinct. I agree that having dinner as a family is vital to keeping a family connected. To quote Gustafson, “At dinner, we bridge the gaps between us by sharing our food and the stories of our lives.” This holds true not only with my family, but also in the fire service. In the fire service, working together and understanding one another is paramount. Dinner is one of the best times for firefighters to build strong bonds that are critical when you are depending on one another to go home safe.

For the last few years I have been working around the fire service as a Fire Cadet. Throughout my training, I have had the opportunity to partake in and observe the ritual of dinner at the fire station. Around those big tables at dinner, stories and experiences are shared, and knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. I was riding along with the firefighters of Seattle Fire Station #17, located in the University District of Seattle, Wash., when I first realized the importance of dinners in the fire service.

I had arrived at the station at 7:00 a.m., right as the firefighters of “C” shift were coming on for their 24-hour rotation. It was a relatively quiet Sunday, warm and sunny. Only five emergency calls had come in. Ladder Company 9 was in charge of making dinner that day. At around 5:00 p.m., the crew of the Ladder Company started to prepare dinner. We were having pizza, and with 13 firefighters and me to feed they were going to have to make a lot. As they cooked, members from the other companies would drift in, help a little, talk, joke, and then drift out to do other chores around the station. As dinner neared completion, the “bell hit.” The dispatcher came over the radio: “Medic response Engine 17, Medic 16, respond. . .”   As we ran out the door to the trucks, the guys cooking said, “We will keep dinner warm.”

Once we returned, dinner was ready, and the old call, “Chow's on!” echoed throughout the station. As the 13 firefighters came in and took their seats around the massive wood table, I could not help but smile. This was it—most people don’t get to do this. I was a guest at the table of the Fire Station #17 family, and—trust me—it is a family. We talked about everything—the last fire they had responded to, football, problems with kids, and even the flowers that they were going to plant in the station’s garden. It was the only time I saw all the firefighters in the same room at the same time the entire shift. Dinner brought the “firefighter family” together, to share and eat, just like you would at home. Once we were all done, it was time to clean up. There are unspoken rules at dinnertime clean up: the cook does not clean, and the new guy is always the first to wash the dishes.

On another visit, this time to Fire Station #2, I witnessed the same family atmosphere. Engine 2 was cooking. It was a quiet evening at Station #2, located on Battery Street in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. Tonight was barbecue night with hot dogs and hamburgers. It was one big party with all of the 12 firefighters at Station #2 laughing and telling stories, even though the crews had been running calls all day. Dinner was really the only time we had together, with the exception of Aid Car 2 receiving a call in the middle of dinner.

Dinner in the fire service is the cornerstone of working together and understanding one another. Without family dinners, the fire service would be more like a job and less like the brotherhood that it has become. Eating as a group leads firefighters to be more than just coworkers; it leads to being family, or as they call it, the brotherhood. A brotherhood forged around the dinner table.

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