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What’s Cookin’ at Topeka Firehouse #5?

Topeka Firefighters Talk Food, Fun, and Family and Share Some Recipes Sure to Rescue Your Dinner Plans

Article by Kelsey Huber

Photography by Thomas Hall/Eagle Aerial Solutions

Originally published in Topeka City Lifestyle

Since this is our food and drink issue, we thought it would be fun to take a look at how meals are handled at a firehouse. With a call imminent every second of the day, how do they plan meals, grocery shop, prep, cook, and clean up on a daily basis? We talked to Lt. Dan McCollum at Topeka Firehouse #5 who told us it’s a group effort.

“We start every day with a morning meeting where we all sit down and decide what to have for dinner that night,” McCollum said. “We pretty much shoot from the hip. A lot of times it’s the person who’s doing the cooking who makes the final decision, but we all have a say.” Once the menu has been decided upon, someone has to go to the grocery store to get the food. 

A lot of times, they’ll stop on the way back from a call. McCollum says most people get a kick out of seeing the firefighters at the local grocery store and are very friendly. But sometimes people wonder why we’re grocery shopping on the clock and why we take the truck to the store.  McCollum laughed and said. “What they don’t understand is that we work 24-hour shifts and we can’t leave the truck while we’re on duty, so we all take the truck to the grocery store. That way, if we get a call while we’re there, we’re ready to go.”  

You may be wondering how often their meals get interrupted by an emergency call. “It’s always a crap shoot,” McCollum said. “In the busier houses like ours, I’d say about 50% of the time either the truck or the engine will get called out. You learn to eat quickly and get used to reheated food.” McCollum told us that the crew eats together every evening. “We may have a big breakfast on the weekend, but for the most part, dinner is the meal we always share,” he said. Sometimes family members will join them. “It gets busy around here, especially around the holidays. We’ve had 25 or 30 people here at a time for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.” 

Working together for 24 hours at a time creates a unique environment. Add to that the stressful nature of the job and you understand how very strong relationships are forged. “You know we see a lot of bad things when we go out on calls - car accidents, drug overdoses, suicides…and I think joking is our way of dealing with the stressful stuff. I tell the rookies that if the guys aren’t messing with you, there’s a problem.”

So, who makes the meals in Firehouse #5? McCollum said everybody has to have one good dish they can cook, but there are two or three guys who are best at it and do most of the cooking. “These young guys have really impressed me,” McCollum shared. "There are a few who can really cook!” He told us that Blake Shipley does most of the cooking for their shift. “He’s really good. I’m always telling him he should open a food truck.”

Shipley says he enjoys doing the cooking. “I’ve cooked all my life. Growing up, my grandma and my dad taught me. My mom is good at baking, and we were involved in 4H for years, so I’ve picked up a little bit from lots of places along the way. I like making food for the guys.” 

Some recent meals using the outdoor grill and smoker include ribs, brisket, pork belly burnt ends and even smoked mac-n-cheese. “Everybody pitches in,” Shipley said. “From ideas, to shopping, to sides, to cleanup - it’s a group effort. 

Shipley shared some of his recent, crowd pleasing recipes. Here are some dishes hot off the firehouse menu. Give ‘em a try tonight:

Parmesan Crusted Chicken


4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded to ¾” thickness

1 cup shredded provolone


½ C olive oil

½ C prepared ranch dressing

3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp vinegar

1 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp minced garlic

½ tsp pepper

Ranch Spread

¼ C ranch dressing

¼ C grated Parmesan

Parmesan Crumb Topping

½ C panko bread crumbs

1 tsp garlic salt

1/3 C shredded Parmesan

2 Tbsp melted butter


Put the chicken breasts in the marinade and place in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Grill chicken until internal temp is 160 degrees. Place chicken in baking dish and cover with ranch spread. Sprinkle parmesan crumb topping over the top and add shredded provolone. Cook at 350 degrees until cheese is melted.

Twice-Baked Potatoes


6 medium potatoes 

1/2 C of milk

1 C of sour cream

12 oz. bag of bacon bits

Start with 8 oz. of cheese of your choice. You may need to add more.

Chives chopped for garnish


Bake potatoes in the oven at 350 degrees until tender. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop the potatoes out of the skins into a bowl. Add milk, sour cream, ¾ of the bacon bits, and ¾ of the cheese. Place skins in a baking dish. In the bottom of each potato skin, put a teaspoon of butter. Mix together and fill potatoes with the mixture. Add some chives, more bacon bits, and cheese to the top and bake again until the cheese is melted and warmed through.

Cherry Cobbler


2 cans of any pie filling

1 box of white cake mix


Spray a 9x13 with Pam spray and pour in pie filling. Sprinkle white cake mix over the pie filling and then melt two sticks of butter and pour over top of cake mix. Bake at 350 degrees until cake mix is golden brown. 

Take this dish up a notch with homemade ice cream!

Visit to view additional photos from this article.

“I’ve never been in a fraternity, but I imagine it’s a lot like this,” McCollum laughed.