Jul 26, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterAfter 41 years cooking food at more than 90 fires across the country, Harry Reed of Lander served his first meal to a local firefighter on Monday. Reed has resided in Lander since 1945. He cofounded Nuway Catering in 1972 to give meals and showers to firefighters throughout the United States, but he says he's never had a call so close to home until Monday.
Nuway has worked at fires near Jeffery City, Dubois, Yellowstone National Park and in the St. Lawrence Basin on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The company has also traveled around the western United States and all the way to New York City after 9/11.
The company is under contract with the U.S. Forest Service and gets the call to come to a fire when it is the closest catering group available. With the Fairfield Fire, Nuway was easily the closest.
"My house is three blocks away," Reed said.
His daughter-in-law, and Nuway's account administrator, Marilyn Reed said they received the call on Monday, and they got to work right away.
The company's 20 employees have been preparing hundreds of breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day this week at Lander Valley High School for firefighters battling the Fairfield Fire.
These are serious meals, too, with each lunch consisting of 2,500 calories to keep firefighters nourished while they attack the blaze.
According to Webmd.com, a moderately active male between the ages of 19 and 30 should consume 2,600-2,800 calories in a day.
All of the meals Nuway serves follow strict U.S. Forest Service guidelines and are heavy on carbohydrates and protein along with vegetables. Tuesday's dinner included two chicken-fried steaks for each firefighter along with, six ounces of mashed potatoes, four ounces of vegetables, four ounces of vegetarian protein, four ounces of desert and a salad bar.
The firefighters use the energy to work their 16-hour shifts, cutting trees and brush, hauling fuel away from the fire and digging fire lines.
A chalkboard near the kitchen trailer listed Wednesday's breakfast menu: four ounces of sausage patties, six ounces of scrambled eggs, six ounces of hash browns and six ounces of oatmeal.
The kitchen is located in one of the nine vehicles in the Nuway caravan that the company brings to the sites of fires. This week, the vehicles are spread out in a grassy field in front of Lander Valley High School.
In the kitchen trailer are a 12-foot-long griddle, eight ovens, a steam table with ten trays, four large burners which each can heat a 10-gallon pot, several sinks and a dishwasher.
"We can cook for 2,000," Harry Reed said.
Other trailers hold a prep kitchen and refrigerated food storage.
Two trailers set up with a tent between them provide showers. One is for men and the other for women, and each hold 13 shower stalls including one handicapped-accessible stall.
Harry Reed said he started the company with a partner, and together they built their first kitchen in 1972. Reed eventually bought the partner out. He once owned five kitchens but now has three.
His daughter, daughter-in-law and son all work for Nuway, and other family members have helped over the years as well.
Harry Reed only had all five kitchens working at the same time once in all those years. It was 1979, he said, and when the last was called out to the St. Lawrence Basin fire on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Reed went himself with two employees to feed 250 people for three days.
Before the Fairfield Fire this year, Nuway had already been at two fires in Colorado.
Reed said the season usually lasts about four months, and his company travels to eight to 10 fires in a busy year. Some years have been slow, when Nuway would only go to three or four fires.
"I don't think we've ever had a summer without one (fire)" Reed said. "We've had some skimpy ones thought."
The busy fire season always gives way to about eight slow months in the winter and spring, however, which the Reeds see as a perk of their work.
Marilyn said her father-in-law likes to say "There are eight good things about this business."
Slow business for him does not spell good news for everyone else, though. Because Nuway is only called if it is closest to the fire, a slow year for Reed's company could still mean many fires are burning in other parts of the West.
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