The smell of bacon permeated the air at Schenectady 1 Fire Station on Saturday afternoon.
Before the slices got too crunchy, firefighter James Rauchi pulled them off the stove, dab in some grease and cut them into small pieces to put in the mashed potatoes.
Rauchi was the station cook at a Christmas feast.
He’s one of the many men who cook in the firehouse, so, since he’s on vacation, he said he’ll go up to the plate and prepare food for the crew of nine.
So, at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Raucci kicks off the production department at Altamont Avenue Price Chopper in Rotterdam. Grab grapes, asparagus, and other things, then move on to get some shrimp and cheese on a Saturday afternoon to whip up the guys until dinner.
The cheese board also included steaks that Raucci picked up on Wednesday from Capri Imports Italian Deli on Broadway.
“I like to stay local and shop in town when I can,” he said, remembering how his mother would buy luncheon meat in Capri. “The little places in town won’t last long.”
He also stayed local for the main course, a 21-pound main roast, which he bought at Avon Market in Van Vranken for $217.
Shift typically spends about $20 per person to cover the day’s meals. However, they give more on holidays to make the meal special because they can’t go home.
“You have to replace some of that holiday magic,” Raucci said.
Vice President Doug Fulci said the holiday period could be tough.
Fawzi said it could also be busier, with more serious medical calls from people waiting too long to seek help. There are also more responses to mental health calls.
Within five and a half hours of shifting, the crew had already responded to five calls.
That was a period of lull, said Lieutenant Stan Willjoki, who was on duty on the station’s last Christmas shift.
He is set to retire in March after 20 years with the department.
While he was assigned the Christmas Day shifts, others brought them in so firefighters with children could spend the day at home, Folesi said. So when the guys can sit down to a meal together, it helps relieve some of the stress from the day and brings a bit of Christmas cheer to the station.
“We’re a second family,” Wiljoki said.
Wiljoki said his last Christmas shift was a bit bittersweet because there were so many comrades among the station members.
Firefighter Mike Stanley agreed. He, too, was working his last Christmas shift before retiring after 22 years.
He said, “There are mixed feelings.”
For Ed Harasiemowicz III, it will be the first of many on vacation. It was only Harasimovich’s second shift at the station, Folesi said. He just became a firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father, who retired in April 2020.
Although the crew can’t spend the whole day with their families, it gets easier when some of them stop at the station.
Folesi’s wife and two daughters stopped in the morning to wish the crew a “Merry Christmas” and brought them a small present. The family of firefighter Mark Carle also stopped, and his children were showing off some gifts they had for their father.
Others, like Wiljoki, send video messages to their families. A smile spread across his face as he chatted with his wife as she visited his children and nephew.
“This is really one of the blessings we have today,” he said of technology. “It makes it easier in some ways.”
Several of the crew moved in and out of the kitchen throughout the afternoon, to check in to the cooking, while still going about their normal daily duties, be it cleaning or other chores.
Folesi said meals on holidays or any day can be tough when they get a call. If someone left doing the cooking, another member would watch the food. If they all go, they’ll shut everything down. Sometimes that spoils the meal and the department just decides to get pizza instead, he said.
Fortunately that did not happen. Around 5:45 p.m., the crew sat happily and ate the meal, which the members described as a success.
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Categories: Schenectady County