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Changes seen in firehouse tradition

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Memories of bygone practices, emblems and equipment aren't the only tinder for firefighters' fond traditions.

From century-old symbols to recipes handed down through the years, resistance to change is largely why firefighters are so steeped in their customs, said Training Maj. Tippy Pierce, a Moore firefighter and controller for the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum.

Still, fire poles, a tradition from days when firehouses were multistory buildings, are being phased out as newer stations are designed single story. Bethany, Warr Acres, Oklahoma City and Norman are among the metro-area cities where poles still are used.

Injuries are a big reason the poles are going out of style, Pierce said.

The pole in Moore's Station No. 1 soon will be removed as part of a remodeling project, but it wasn't getting much use anyway, Pierce said.

``Part of the problem is getting up in the middle of the night and going down that thing half-awake,'' Pierce said.

Midwest City fire spokesman Jerry Lojka said increased ankle fractures and muscle strains prompted officials in the early 1980s to add a slide to their Station No. 1 design.

For tradition's sake, Norman Fire Chief Johnny Vaughn convinced firefighters earlier this year to start using a badge style from the 1920s, said Capt. Greg Roberts. The slightly larger badges already are being worn by about half of the department.

``Eventually they hope to change the entire department over,'' he said.

An Edmond tradition has rookies act as receptionist for their prospective stations to help them learn about working with the public, said driver Vince Pfeiffer.

During times of illness or injury, death, or most recently, deployment, firefighters give money and time to come to the aid of that firefighter's family, he said.

Cooking remains a solid tradition in firehouses, where firefighters work, sleep and, of course, eat while on duty.

``Most every fire department, I don't care where it is, has some good cooks in it,'' Pierce said.

Warr Acres firefighters often eat ``firehouse trash,'' a hodgepodge of eggs, cheese, potatoes, sausage, or whatever they can find in the kitchen, said acting Fire Chief Rob Carter.

According to Edmond tradition, firefighters who earn a promotion provide and cook steak dinners for the entire station crew.

``It's because everyone in the station had a hand in helping you get there,'' he said.

However, firefighters around the metro said the best firefighter fare around is chili dished up each year by Midwest City firefighters at the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association legislative reception.

The recipe is a closely guarded secret. Cooking it requires two days, more than 120 pounds of various meats, a boat oar, and a pot large enough for a man to stand in, said Midwest City fire Capt. Mark Zeckser.

``One of our sayings is that we never put any trash in our chili, meaning we don't put any beans or fillers in it,'' Zeckser said.

In the late '80s, Zeckser and late firefighter David Bain entered the state Chamber of Commerce chili cookoff with a beer-based recipe Bain acquired from a relative. After winning the contest two years in a row, Bain and Zeckser started cooking it for association functions.

After Bain died of cancer in 2003, the chili came off the burner for most events out of respect for him.

``The only time since he (Bain) died that I will even cook the chili anymore is during the legislative reception,'' Zeckser said.
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