Ore. Firefighters Fight Diabetes With Healthy Diets

Nov. 03--Matt Oberhelman steered into the Fred Meyer parking lot off Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway recently and parked his enormous red rig.

He and three colleagues hopped out, pushed through the store's doors and headed for the produce section. Lunch required fresh green beans, parsley, garlic, ginger and apples. The guys also picked up boneless, skinless chicken breasts, reduced-sodium soy sauce, sesame oil and a few other items.

No cheesy pizza for them. No chicken-fried steak and gravy. No, the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue crew from Fire Station 65 in Beaverton's West Slope planned to throw together an uber-healthy Asian chicken and bean salad, one of the recipes the fire district will share in November during an educational campaign it calls the Firehouse Cooking Challenge.

TVF&R firefighters and paramedics know all about problems associated with lousy diets and insufficient exercise, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes: They went out on nearly 1,100 diabetes-related calls last year; their medical kits are stocked with intravenous, injectable and oral glucose, among many other medications.

The daunting number of diabetes-linked emergencies inspired fire-district officials to launch an education effort -- a tasty one -- during National Diabetes Month.They solicited one diabetes-friendly, heart-healthy recipe from each of the district's 21 fire stations, which they'll share during November at www.tvfr.com. Firefighters are challenging the public to make those dishes at home and discover how easy it is to prepare delicious, well-balanced meals.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults are insulin resistant, or have "pre-diabetes" as the condition is sometimes called, yet only 7 percent are aware of it. Their bodies produce insulin but don't use it effectively, causing glucose to build up in the blood. The condition leads to Type 2 diabetes.

The cause of insulin resistance isn't completely understood, but physical inactivity and excess fat, especially around the waist, are believed to be chief contributors, says Dr. Miles Hassell, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

"In people who take good care of themselves, we see a 70 to 90 percent reduction in diabetes risk," says Hassell, co-author of the "Good Food, Great Medicine" cookbook.

"The steps to prevent diabetes are the common-sense steps that everybody knows, deep down, are correct," he says. "Don't be too overweight. Exercise daily. Minimize refined foods. Cook more at home. Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and healthy fats."

In other words, eat like a TVF&R firefighter.

Many of the recipes the department will share this month sound mouth-watering: corn and shrimp chowder; honey-dijon salmon; Chris' firehouse chili; cilantro-lime fish tacos; gingerbread squares.

Hungry yet?

Most folks have seen firefighters out grocery shopping and might have wondered: Who cooks at the firehouse? Do they have to pay for their own groceries? And when the alarm rings and the crew races off to extinguish a fire, extract victims from a car wreck or help a patient experiencing a health crisis, who remembers to turn off the firehouse stove?

The answers, at least at Fire Station 65: Everyone takes turns cooking; if it's your turn, you cook all three meals. Firefighters pay for their own groceries and put $23 per person each month into a communal fund for such staples as flour, spices and salad dressing. The stove and oven are rigged so they shut off automatically when the crew heads out on a call.

Fire crews typically grocery shop together. It suits the department's team building philosophy and it's good for public relations, giving firefighters frequent opportunities to meet their neighbors in non-emergency situations.

The fellows from Station 65 -- Oberhelman and firefighters Blake Ferguson, Aaron Zahrowski and Lt. Genaro Esparza -- filed through the Freddy's checkout line, headed outside and climbed back in the fire truck that typically carries them on six or seven emergency calls during every 24-hour shift.

Back at the firehouse, with company for lunch that day, all four got to work in the spic-'n'-span kitchen, which includes two sinks, a six-burner stove, a two-pot coffeemaker and four refrigerators -- one for each of the station's three crews and one communal fridge.

While one firefighter lit the barbecue outside, another peeled garlic. Someone else washed green beans, while a fourth got chicken marinating.

Before long, they delivered big bowls of tangy beans and moist grilled chicken, plus a platter of apples and pitchers of water to a firefighter-made dining table that sits atop two old hydrants.

Esparza turned the music system to jazz.

Their healthy-as-it-gets lunch was served.

Good thing it got quickly devoured, because just as they finished eating, the alarm sounded, the men bolted toward the fire engine and they were gone.

-- Katy Muldoon

Copyright 2013 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.