- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

BOYCE, Va. (AP) - When Tammie Condon dropped off her junior firefighter son at a fire scene in Boyce about five years ago, she asked another member of the Boyce Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company if it had an auxiliary to supply drinks for those battling the fire.

The answer she got - no - was “unacceptable,” Condon said recently.

So she called her husband, Pat, and told him to start making coffee and loading up coolers.

The couple returned to the fire scene with all the snacks they could find in their house and set up their first canteen for the firefighters.

They’ve been at it ever since.

“They are invaluable,” said Harold Rohde, chief of the John H. Enders Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company in Berryville. “They have been a blessing for training (exercises) and for incidents.”

Ender’s auxiliary once provided food and drinks for the volunteers.

But, as time went on and auxiliary members aged, there was no one left to provide the service.

“They approached us,” Rohde said of the Condons. “They really wanted to help us out.”

Tammie Condon said she grew up in a firefighting family in Henderson, North Carolina, and was used to an auxiliary providing food and drinks to the volunteers.

“I was a firefighter. I remember how it was to come off a call and be hot and want a cold drink.”

By starting a canteen here, Tammie Condon hopes to teach her sons a lesson. “If you see something you don’t like, don’t sit on your butt and complain. Get up and do something.”

Pretty soon, the Condons were listening to the police scanner for fires in the Boyce area of Clarke County. If they heard a call that sounded like firefighters were going to be on the scene for some time, they packed up food, drinks and utensils and headed in that direction.

Pat Condon said they eventually widened their efforts to include fire calls in the Berryville area.

He credits their background in the Boy Scouts with helping them handle the logistics of feeding large crowds.

“You learn to cook for a lot of people,” he said.

“In 30 minutes or less,” Tammie Condon said, “we can bring enough food to feed 300 people.”

That’s because the Condons spend time getting things ready before the need arises.

They make their popular chili at home, put it in gallon bags and pop in it the freezer.

Frozen flat, the bags stack well and can be plucked out, reheated and ready to serve.

“Same with my spaghetti,” Pat Condon said.

They also go through a lot of hot dogs, because the volunteers like them with the chili sauce - a combo known in the canteen as a “man-dog.”

The Condons carry the makings for sandwiches, too. And, depending on the time of day, they serve breakfast sandwiches made from sausage, egg and cheese.

Volunteers can be precise in their requests.

The canteen has fresh fruit, bananas and apples.

While the bananas can be on the table, the apples must be chilling in a cooler.

“They have to be cold and crisp. Ice cold,” Pat Condon said.

And there are some unusual tastes.

Tammie’s mother, Theresa Purdue, who is on the canteen team, noted that many firefighters like pouring hot chocolate into their coffee.

The Condons get help operating the canteen from their two sons, both Eagle Scouts, and even from their granddaughter, Kinley, age 4.

Other friends also come when called.

Pat Condon said that when Enders was called to retrieve a body from an abandoned cistern in Berryville, the call lengthened from an hour into an all-night vigil because special equipment needed to be brought in.

The Condons had responded with the canteen, stocked only for a short-term incident. When it became apparent that the rescue crews would need to be fed, the couple got on the phone to call friends to bring supplies.

“Here came people walking up the street with crockpots,” Rohde recalled. “They have a great network of people.”

Pat Condon said the community always responds to his requests for help. At that same incident, he recalled that a firefighter from Fairfax asked if they could get fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

That wasn’t on the menu, but Pat got into his truck and sped to Food Lion. Although the kitchen was closed, the manager agreed to reopen it and fry up some chicken to fill the request.

Rohde said the fire companies cover the cost of the food and drinks, but the Condons volunteer their time and equipment to bring the canteen whenever it is needed.

No matter what time it is, Rohde said all he has to do is call and the Condons come with whatever is needed, from a few drinks to a full meal.

Patrick Condon II, 18, said there have been some occasions when he has joined his parents at a fire scene and spent several hours there, only to get home, sleep for an hour or so and get up and head for school. “They are taking time out of their day to help us,” he said of the firefighters. “I can take time out of my day to help them.”

Tammie Condon works as a government administrator in Chantilly. She said her boss is very understanding when her husband calls to say there’s a big fire and the canteen is needed.

“By the time she gets here, I’m all packed and ready to go,” Pat Condon said.

Since he has his own knife-sharpening business at home, he can close down when he’s needed.

The Condons have ideas on how they can improve their service.

They are looking for a used truck to use for the canteen, so they don’t have to pack everything into one of their vehicles.

Tammie Condon would also like to have a few care packages stocked with items to give to people who have been displaced by a fire.

A recent fire left a family with a small baby without anything for the child, including diapers.

The Condons were able to supply a few things belonging to their granddaughter.

“We’re just trying to think of all the things they need, for them to do their job,” she said about the firefighters. “And a little comfort for those affected by the call.”

___

Information from: The Winchester Star, https://www.winchesterstar.com


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