Ashland fire fighters put on the second annual Thanksgiving feast for the Ashland Senior Center, but with a new twist — instead of catering it, they cooked it all themselves — turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

Ashland fire fighters put on their second annual Thanksgiving feast for the Ashland Senior Center, but with a new twist — instead of catering it, they cooked it all themselves — turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

It got raves.

For many of the 50 seniors, this was to be their only Thanksgiving dinner and they responded with much chatter and joy, as if it were a "night out on the town," as Program Director Christine Dodson called it.

"It's a wonderful and generous thing from the firefighters. People remember it from last year and more are coming — and they're bringing their sons and daughters," says Dodson.

Firefighters work long shifts and handle most of their own cooking, so almost all of them know their way around a kitchen, said Fire Chief John Karns, who pitched in on the green beans and butternut squash.

He carried the idea with him from a previous job in Hollywood and brought it up when the Ashland Firefighters Association was casting about for a service project to better connect with the community, he notes.

"So often we come in contact with seniors on our emergency calls," said Karns, "and this is a way to connect in a better, more relaxed environment."

Cooking, Karns adds, is a practical skill cultivated during 40-hour shifts at the station, but it serves another purpose, to help build "family" among fire fighters, who get to know each other deeply, and even know each other's children.

This is the "family feeling," he says, that gets shared as fire fighters wait tables for seniors, with one, Capt. Kelly Burns bringing his daughter Juilienne to hand out plates for delighted diners.

Fire fighters had the feast catered last year, but the caterer went out of business and they decided that, with their seasoned kitchen skills, they should be able to handle the job, said Burns.

"If a firefighter doesn't know how to cook, well, they've got to learn," he notes.

"We cook all the time," said Capt. Todd Stubbs, "and, yes, we do burn the food sometimes. Not often. I recently burned a steak."

Diners had nothing but praise for the cuisine and gladly accepted seconds.

"It's excellent, tasty and nutritious," said Theresa Greer. "It's my Thanksgiving dinner. I really think they should do a firefighters cookbook."

"Wonderful food and the meat is so tender," said Joe Vidmar.

"Couldn't be better — both turkey and ham and the service is so great. It's quite a job for them to put this together."

"It develops trust between us (seniors) and the fire department," says Art Tetrault. "We're going to meet them sooner or later and I'd rather get to know them like this."

Dave Shepherd of the Ashland Firefighters Association, said his "line" (nonmanagement) firefighters have the time, ability and money, about $1,000, to make the feast happen and "everyone volunteered to do one dish.