Firefighters respond to many calls on the job and sometimes their stomachs growl when they forget to eat or have a late meal. L.A. City Firefighter Lance DeMello got tired of not having a routine meal, so he stepped up to the role of permanent cook (PC) at Station 12 on the C-Platoon.
DeMello is part of the small population in the firefighting community trying to hold on the tradition of having a permanent cook. Often, every firefighter in each platoon shift takes turns cooking. Each shift decides whether they want a permanent cook or to follow a rotation.
He laughed, “They kept asking me to cook. Finally, after two years I agreed to cook because I was getting tired of not eating.”
Family Tradition of Cooking
Growing up, he stuck to mom in the kitchen watching her cook dishes that she made back in Hawaii such as the Kaula shredded pork. Living in Boyle Heights, his Hawaiian roots were exposed to a melting pot of different ethnicities by sampling and learning to cook other people’s food. Sometimes at home, his mom would fuse two cultural dishes into one.
He says, “We ate everything from spam masubi to taquitos. Mom made Kaula carnitas. The same thing, but different in its own way.”
It’s rare for DeMello to look up a recipe. Instead, he mostly cooks based on what he learned from his mom. Coming up with ideas on what to prepare at the station is hard for DeMello which makes him turn to his co-workers first.
The firefighters’ tastes cover a wide variety of favorites, including Hawaiian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian food and DeMello never hesitates to fulfill those requests. He has attempted baking but prefers grilling.
A favorite dish of the station is Lance’s Combo #5, which is short ribs and chicken teriyaki with macaroni salad and rice on the side. The name of the dish came randomly from his co-worker and it was influenced by his mom’s cooking.
The Art of Being a Firehouse Chef
Working 11 years at Station 12, DeMello knows what to make for his fellow firefighters based on their food cravings and dislikes.
“Just like what they say a way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. Same for the guys. If I make the guys happy, our whole shift runs smoother.”
There are times that people in his shift would take turns and each cook one dish. Cooking is a normal routine for DeMello in the station and at home; occasionally, he wants to try everyone’s dishes at work.
Being permanent cook isn’t just about feeding people, but also lifts the worry off the other firefighters’ shoulders and has its perks.
“If you are permanent cook, everyone is free to do what they need to finish. Cooking takes off the pressure of everybody else in the station especially for the captains.”
When DeMello became PC in 2004, he was also given the job of permanent truck, in which they handle the tools and ladder. Before becoming a firefighter, he was a mechanic and having the responsibility of the truck allows him to channel the skills from his previous occupation.
Next year, he will retire with 30 years of service and the tradition of having a permanent cook in the station might come to an end.
“I know in our battalion that I’m the only permanent cook. That would be the one less permanent cook in the L.A. Fire Department. No one has kept that tradition.”
By Katherine Abando
Try Firefighter Lance DeMello’s Combo #5 recipe!
Check out some other delicious Firehouse Recipes