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Gainesville firefighters are champs at cooking chicken
Department serves up winning recipes during spring festival
Lt. David Stringer, right, and the Gainesville Fire Department serve a sample of the department’s “controlled burn” wings to Kurt Feldhaus during a previous Spring Chicken Festival in downtown Gainesville. The Gainesville Fire Department won the 2016 Peoples’s Choice award during the festival in April.

2016 Spring Chicken Festival winners

Fan favorites

* 2016 Peoples’s Choice award: Gainesville Fire department

* 2016 Showmanship Award: Mojo Voodoo BBQ

Professional wings

* First place: Chipotle Brothers by Budget Blinds

* Second place: Chipotle Brothers by Budget Blinds

Professional specialty

* First place: Mule Camp Rocks

* Second place: Chipotle Brothers by Budget Blinds

Professional chicken

* First place: Chipotle Brothers by Budget Blinds

* Second place: Smokin’ Butts

Backyard wings

* First place: Georgia Mountain BBQ

* Second place: Walgreens

Backyard Specialty

* First place: Gainesville Fire Department

* Second place: Gainesville Fire Department

Backyard Chicken

* First place: Georgia Mountain BBQ

* Second place: Georgia Mountain BBQ

Firefighters are typically known for their abilities to tame flames and keep people safe, but the Gainesville Fire Department is building a reputation for something else — its ability to cook some of the best chicken around town.

The Gainesville firefighters took home several awards from the Gainesville Spring Chicken Festival, including the People’s Choice Award and first and second place in backyard specialty for their two types of chicken.

“They are the fan favorite, who doesn’t love a firefighter?” Gainesville Main Street Manager Regina Mansfield said. “They’re very charismatic. They interact with the crowd. They’re just a lot of fun, and any families out there with children, they gravitate toward the firefighters.”

The fire department has won the People’s Choice Award every year but one since it started participating in the festival in 2010.

“It’s been an annual event for a long time for us,” Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough said. “The guys here really enjoy doing that event, and it’s a lot of work.”

This year the fire department served up a chicken ball, chicken brats, barbecue chicken, wings and french fries. The chicken ball won first place in specialty and the chicken brats won second. The wings didn’t place this year.

“People like the firefighters’ food,” Yarbrough said. “We do a good job when we cook stuff.”

Yarbrough worked the serving line at the festival, leaving the cooking to others.

Yarbrough also said it was hard to keep their barbecue specialty chicken in the serving dishes for people to sample. Because of its popularity, it was being scooped up quickly.

“I remember looking up and the line was stretching down Spring Street as far as you can see,” he said.

Yarbrough said the department enters the Spring Chicken Festival to win and doesn’t cook in any other competitions.

Every year different firefighters participate in the competition depending on who is working or not working at the time. According to the Gainesville Fire Department Facebook page, some of the firefighters who helped cook and staff the booth were Scott Stowers, Dustin Oliver, Jess Clark, Blake Truelove, Grant Myland, Niles Corey, Kyle Keating, David Stringer, Greg Hunsinger and Yarbrough.

To prepare for the competition the firefighters start thinking about what specialty food item they want to cook about a month before the competition. Then they test cook it and decide whether it will be a part of the Spring Chicken Festival.

“Firemen, they work 24 hours and they usually prepare three meals, so maybe one Saturday afternoon they’ll do some wings or some type of chicken and I know they like to make their own sauces, and that’s pretty much what gets us through the contest,” Yarbrough said.

The firefighters cooked about 200 pounds of potatoes for the french fries this year.

The controlled burn wing is smoked and dipped in special sauce, but the buffalo chicken is not very spicy, Yarbrough said.

People who attend the festival voted on the People’s Choice Award winner.

“(Winning) let’s me know that the people attending this event like our food, they enjoy what we cook,” Yarbrough said.

The Spring Chicken Festival has become a Gainesville tradition, and 2016 was its 12th year. The fire department was one of 14 cook teams that participated this year.

“Every year it grows,” Mansfield said. “This year was our biggest turnout and by far our best fundraising year.”

The festival is a fundraiser for Keep Hall Beautiful and Main Street Gainesville and the money raised goes into community projects.

A record amount of chicken — more than 7,000 pounds — was cooked this year, Mansfield said. Organizers are already in the early planning stages for next year’s Spring Chicken Festival.