Nov. 1 Looks To Be a Little “Chili”

October 28, 2013 |

Music, food & fun rocks the Tucson Fire Fighters chili cook-off each fall.
photo by Bert Thomas

The forecast for Nov. 1 is HOT. And it isn’t about the weather – we’re talking chili, and lots of it.

For the past 18 years, various stations from Tucson Fire Department and other surrounding departments have convened at El Presidio Park, 160 W. Alameda St., for the annual Tucson Fire Fighters Association’s chili cook-off to benefit the Tucson Firefighter’s Adopt-A-Family program. Last year’s event brought in more than $62,000 to aid hundreds of Southern Arizonan families who were in need of holiday gifts, food and clothing.

“As firefighters, our job is to serve the citizens of the city, and this does not end when we are off duty,” wrote Captain Sloan Tamietti, Tucson Fire, in a letter to the cook-off’s sponsors and potential donors. “This event helps us maintain the ability to continue doing just that, but we cannot do it alone.”

According to the Tucson Fire Fighter’s Association website, last year’s cook-off attracted more than 10,000 visitors and served over 750 gallons of chili.

“It’s open to anybody and we just have it set up as a food festival,” Tamietti said in an interview. “We want to show our way of giving back to the community.”

The cook-off is free to attend. To buy chili, visitors will purchase tickets to exchange for chili samples. If you’re not a fan of the spicy stuff, don’t worry! There’s mild, bean-less, meatless and green varieties of chili stewing in the pots. And if you don’t like chili at all, a variety of other food is there to savor as well – quesadillas, Eegees, frozen yogurt – and all of the proceeds still go to the Adopt-A-Family program.

“When we first started doing the Adopt-A-Family programs, we started to exhaust materials,” said Anthony Gonzalez, TFD Captain at station 20. “We decided to come up with an event that would generate interest in the fire departments and bring families together for a good cause.”

Gonzalez and his comrades came up with the idea of the cook-off eighteen years ago.

“I remember going to my fire chief, and my fire chief told me, ‘Great idea, Tony, but it’s not likely to get enough support.’ I said, ‘Alright, we’ll see.’”

On Dec. 7 that same year, the first firefighter chili cook-off was born, and, as fate would have it, so was Gonzalez’s son. Gonzalez went on to organize the first 10 cook offs.

“We put 100 percent back into the community,” Gonzalez said. “And people look forward to this event all year long.”

Local fire stations compete for best chili & best booth.
photo by Bert Thomas

But it’s not just charity. It’s also a friendly competition between the departments and individual stations. The prize? Bragging rights for the team that cooked the best chili and for the team with the best dressed volunteers and best decorated booth.

“The firefighters really put their all into their creative booths and costumes. It’s always fun and exciting to see what they’ve come up with,” said Cassie Curran who has been to the cook-off the past four years. “The chili cook-off is an event I look forward to every year! And it goes without saying that the chili is delicious. It really kicks off the holiday season activities in Tucson for me.”

There will also be live music at the event, played by musicians who are volunteering their time as well.

“It’s for the community and we want to let them know that we try real hard to do our best for the community,” said Roger Soriano, TFD Captain who has participated in every one since the event’s inception. “We love doing it. We are a community, we enjoy it and we are who we are.”

Soriano’s booth will be giving our quesadillas along with other tasty treats.

“It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of work,” Soriano said. “Our particular group has young and old, and we drink beer, and we’re there and we have fun and we raise money.”

Soriano said that he believes the cook-offs are getting so big, that they will eventually have to find a new home.

“We’ve outgrown downtown, we’re going to have to move it,” he said. “I think that we can get a bigger, better crowd. The more we raise, the more we can give back.”

The money raised for the Adopt-A-Family program helps families during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and even helps provide a fun surprise to kids at the Diamond Children’s Cancer Center at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

“We have one of our ladder trucks go down to the cancer center for the kids and Santa Claus comes through the window to give out gifts,” Tamietti said.

The cook off is on Friday, Nov. 1 from 10 a.m.–10 p.m. at El Presidio Park, 160 W. Alameda St. It is free to attend. For more information, visit the cook off’s website or Facebook page.