OWATONNA — Since 1922, the National Fire Protection Association has sponsored the public observance of Fire Prevention Week. To ring in the week and to spread public awareness about fire safety at both home and work, the Owatonna Fire Department has been kicking off the week with an annual chili/soup feed for over a decade.
On Sunday, Oct. 6, the annual Owatonna Firefighters Relief Association chili/wild rice soup feed will take place at the Owatonna Fire Station on Main Street from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $6 in advance at the station and Owatonna Fitness and $8 at the door. Children ages five and under eat for free. All the proceeds will go to the association.
“We’ve never really set a goal, but we usually get about 800 people,” said Bob Hager, a fire equipment operator with OFD. “Most of the money we get we we’ll donate back to the community somehow.”
In previous years, a large portion of the money raised at the chili/soup feed was donated to We All Play, a community group committed to bringing an inclusive playground and miracle field to Owatonna. Hagar stated that a community cause has yet to be selected to benefit from this year’s event, but that the chili feed committee usually brings something forward to the larger body for a vote.
Another area that the money is used is to provide incentive to recruit and retain quality firefighters through the promise of a pension for those who remain on staff for at least a decade. The association, which is a non-profit, also uses some of the proceeds to celebrate the firefighters and their families.
“We can’t be firefighters without our families. We couldn’t do our job without them supporting us,” Hager explained. “Usually at the firehouse it’s just us firefighters, so we usually have a picnic and one other event each year for all of us and our families to get together.”
Hager said that these are particularly special events for the department as the firefighters view one another as their family as well. He also said that the retired firefighters and their families are always invited, which makes for a lot prime storytelling.
“It’s a good time to get the old stories and for the new firefighters to meet everyone,” Hager said about the department parties, adding that Sunday in a way serves as another family party for the group. “We get a lot of family who come out to help with the feed.”
The biggest help, according to Hager, comes from the Owatonna Country Club, which provides all the food for the supper. He joked that this was probably for the best as opposed to having the firefighters make the chili themselves.
“I don’t think I could make 100 gallons of chili,” he laughed. “And it’s always really good chili.”
The annual chili/soup feed also serves as the station’s open house, providing tours of the fire house throughout the event. Hager added that children of all ages – including the 50-year-old kids-at-heart – will have the chance to examine the firetrucks and equipment.
“We usually try to have an activity or two for the kids depending on the weather,” he stated. “Sometimes it’s as simple as spraying some water, but it keeps them entertained.”
National Fire Prevention Week, which was first proclaimed as a national observance in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge, is the longest-running public health observance in the country. During Fire Prevention Week, children, adults, and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of a fire. Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to drastically decrease casualties caused by fires.
Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on Oct. 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage during the three days it burned. This horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres of land.