If you walk past the corner of E. Chelten Ave. and Baynton St. in East Germantown around noon and 7 p.m. each day, you’ll see smoke billowing from the side of the Engine 19 Ladder 8 firehouse.
With that smoke comes the smell of delicious barbeque, as the firefighters are in the midst of cooking their traditional shift meal.
The dinner table is a tranquil place where they unwind while nourishing themselves before a day’s work.
“The dinner table is one of the biggest traditions in the department where fire stories, home stories and even grievances are talked about,” said Terrence Boyle, a seven-year firefighter at the station. “It all gets aired out here.”
Just like any family, there are always tough times, but here they resolve their issues and help each other in times of need.
“These guys become your family,” said 10-year veteran Jim Meenan. “We grow up together and it’s like a family because we are together as much as we are with our real families.”
Known as the “Pride of Germantown,” the men at this station respect tradition and what comes along with it.
The 52 firefighters who work here show that pride by coming in an hour early in order to relieve the previous shift of their duties.
“Our shift starts at 5 o’clock, but we have to be here by 6, just so that guy we’re coming in for can get back to his family,” Boyle said.
Capt. Bernard Newsome reiterated these family values but noted that it doesn’t occur overnight.
“It takes a long time for guys to operate the way you see them in order to grow together and operate like a family,” he said.
The most important thing to Newsome is his team’s safety.
“My main goal is to be a complete unit and not individual parts,” Newsome said. “Their safety and well being is in my hands and my main goal is bringing my guys back home.”
Other traditions include guests being able to eat first and not being obligated to cook or clean throughout the meal.
In return, it’s proper for the guest to bring something as a housewarming gesture. Make no mistake about it: They will let someone who walks in empty-handed hear about it.
“The fire house etiquette is a tradition of unwritten rules that we urge others in the department to follow,” said Meenan.
These guests, aka the “detail,” are members of other firehouses across the city who go around to different stations to cover shifts for other firefighters. Each member at any given station is eligible to go on detail at other stations.
“They go around to stations to cover for vacation, or for anything that the firefighter needs and they can make overtime,” said Meenan.
Welcoming a Marine into the fold
The station recently received a new addition when former U.S. Marine Jake Udovich joined the crew six months ago.
Udovich has been trained and tested to increase his fire-safety knowledge and to show he is ready to become a full-time firefighter.
That has all led up to the customary six-month meal, in which he gets a catered meal with Deputy Fire Chief Derrick Sawyer.
“It’s the best job in the world,” Udovich said. “I love the camaraderie you share with the guys because you are relying on each other with your lives.”
Newsome had high praise for the rookie.
“Jake is young and aggressive and when you have those qualities, you will always be prepared,” he said, calling Udovich one of the best in his class.
The “Pride of Germantown” firefighters know the risks they take every day. So does the community they serve.
Germantown residents have shown their gratitude by donating supplies for the firehouse, which is helpful since Boyle pointed out that “everything in the station is bought out of our own pocket.”
“Neighbors from week to week donate things,” said Newsome. “We once had a woman bake us a cake every time Chooch [Philadelphia Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz] hit a home run.”
In return, the firefighters take pride in being a key part of the community.
“No one is from the neighborhood,” said Boyle, “but everyone who works here is proud to be here.”
Kyle DeLone and A.J. Groy are La Salle University students who write for GermantownBeat, a local student-produced news site. NewsWorks features articles from GermantownBeat on its Northwest Philadelphia community sites and contributes multimedia journalism training to the program.