Firefighters cook up 4-alarm fun

Third-annual Fire in the Park chili cook-off raises money for hungry

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Chili competitors

Confirmed chili competitors (more may sign up at the last minute):


Philly Bilmos.



Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.

Foody Blues BBQ.

Fire Stations:

Vancouver Fire Station 5.

Vancouver Fire Station 8.

Vancouver Fire Department Volunteers.

Battalion Chiefs.

Camas Fire Department.

If you go

What: Fire in the Park: chili cook-off, firefighter competitions, kids’ activities, beer and wine garden, pipe and drum bands and concert by Patrick Lamb.

When: Noon to 9 p.m. July 23.

Where: Esther Short Park.

Why: It’s a Vancouver Firefighters Union fundraiser for Share, a charity that operates homeless shelters and helps hungry children and families in Clark County.

Cost: Free admittance, chili tastings are $1 per cup, visitors pay for other food and beverages.

More information:http://www.firein... or https://www.faceb...

Capt. Scott Blanton and his firefighting crew at Vancouver’s Tiger Engine Company won’t be lighting up their grills at the third annual Fire in the Park chili cook-off on Saturday.

They’d like to, but their recipe is just too good, Blanton said.

“We took a year off this year because we’re tired of winning all the awards,” Blanton said. “We just thought we’d let somebody else win.”

The company, also known as Vancouver Fire Station 2, won the tasting contests for best firehouse chili for the past two years.

They still plan to participate in the event-filled fundraiser for Share, a local charity that cares for homeless and hungry citizens of Clark County, but the group decided to take the year off as they develop a different ultra-secret recipe that they’ll unveil in 2012, he said.

“Next year, we’re going to bring something completely new — and it’s going to be even better,” Blanton said.

The good news is that there are quite a few other chili makers ramping up for this year’s competition — which should be the tastiest part of the daylong festivities, which include children’s games, pipe and drum parades, firefighter skills competitions and a beer and wine garden for the adults.

The even better news is that because the Tiger Engine Company no longer plans to compete with their winning formula, they’ve agreed to share their award-winning recipe with Columbian readers.

And perhaps the best news of all is that all of the items, food and beverage sales from the day will benefit local people, including children, who desperately need the help, said Diane McWithey, executive director of Share.

“It’s a wonderful fundraiser,” McWithey said. “The firemen do a fantastic job.”

Last year, Fire in the Park raised a total of $28,000, which after expenses garnered about $13,000 for the charity. Share operates three homeless shelters in Vancouver and hot meal and backpack food programs for children.

Share also runs a “Summer Slam Program,” which is a mix of summer camp and educational programs, with free breakfast and lunch for about 600 disadvantaged kids. The program used to just provide lunch, until the group realized it wasn’t enough, McWithey added.

“The kids right when they got there in the morning kept asking what’s for lunch, and they’d keep asking all day,” McWithey said. “It became apparent to us that they hadn’t eaten breakfast. So we found a way to add that.”

Firefighters took up Share’s cause after its shelter at 1115 W. 13th St. burned down in 1996. A community effort helped the charity rebuild the shelter in 1999.

“I was at the fire when Share burned down,” said Capt. Matt Thierfelder of the Vancouver Fire Fighters Union. “My family has volunteered for them. I’ve seen how much good they do.”

In its first year, Fire in the Park was a relatively small event, but it has grown steadily.

“Each year it’s bigger, with bigger musicians, more sponsors,” Thierfelder said. “Vancouver used to have a big chili cook-off for years, but then it stopped, and this is sort of replacing that. I think that’s a big part of the draw.”

About 3,000 people showed up least year, even though the activities took place on a very hot 100-plus degree August day. The organizers are hoping for better weather this time around.

At least four firehouses and five restaurants plan to compete in the chili-tasting competition. Tasting cups cost $1 each.

The festivities this year will be capped off by a free performance by Portland saxophonist Patrick Lamb from 6-8 p.m.

“Patrick Lamb is one of the hottest regional musical acts around,” Thierfelder said.

About 100 pipers and drummers from the Northwest Firefighters Pipes and Drums Association will play at various times during the day. The musicians, who are based in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, decided to have their annual symposium coincide with Fire in the Park so they could participate, said Thierfelder, who’s a member.

“The guys love coming to Vancouver, they love Esther Short Park,” Thierfelder said. “Vancouver, you don’t really think it’s right in the middle of anything, but it’s actually in a perfect spot to bring our members from those three states together.”

The skills competition is also a big hit at the event. Firefighters put on all their gear and then compete with each other to connect hoses, pull weights, break things with sledgehammers or carry buckets of water.

“They go two at a time,” Thierfelder said. “It’s on the bricks at Esther Short Park so people can get really close and they can watch everything.”

The children’s area will have free obstacle courses, face painting and other activities.

“We’ll have a slide, golf putting, a tattoo station, lots of fun things in our Kids Zone,” said Sue Warren, who’s helping to organize the event for Share.

Classic fire trucks from different eras will be on display as well.

Widmer Brothers Brewing donated the beer for the beer and wine garden, so all beer proceeds will go directly to Share, Thierfelder said.

Despite not participating in the chili competition this year, Blanton said he’ll still be on hand at the event. He’s a judge this time around.

“I really enjoy it,” Blanton said. “It’s a lot of fun. In the morning, when we’re getting ready, you can smell the barbecues cooking the meat and the peppers roasting. Chili, after all, is a fire house favorite.”

White Tiger Chili

2010 winner, judges’ choice, people’s choice, best firehouse chili. Courtesy of Vancouver Fire Department Engine Co. 2 — the Tiger Engine.

2 pounds boneless chicken breast

3 Anaheim chilies, fire roasted and peeled

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 yellow onions

4 cloves garlic

48 ounces chicken broth

5 cans Great Northern beans

2 4-ounce cans of green chillies

1 tablespoon cumin

1½ teaspoons oregano

8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese

12 ounces sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste


Blue corn chips


Sour cream

Shredded jack cheese

Rub chicken breast with a mixture of chili powder, paprika, garlic granules, salt and pepper and let stand for at least 20 minutes.

Grill chicken. When cool dice into ½-inch cubes.

While chicken is grilling, place the Anaheim chilies on the grill until they blister. Do this on a very hot part of the grill and turn frequently to get all sides blistered. The goal is to get most of the skin off without cooking the pepper. Once they are cool enough to manage, you should be able to just wipe the skin, remove the seeds and dice.

In a large stock pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil.

Next add the stock, beans, canned chilies, cumin, oregano, diced chicken and the roasted chilies. Simmer for 30 minutes.

If too thin, you may thicken with 4 tablespoons of roux (see note below).

Add sour cream and cheese and simmer for 10 minutes.

Finally, season with salt and pepper.

Serve in a bowl, garnish with cheese, sour cream, a blue corn chip and a sprinkle of finely chopped cilantro.

Note: A roux is made by adding equal parts flour and butter in a small pan and cooking until it is slightly brown and starts to have a nutty aroma. Let the roux cool and then stir into the chili a little at a time while simmering until it reaches desired thickness.