It's not entirely clear how the stereotype of firemen and their love of chili began. A short thread on Reddit considered some theories:

  • Chili can be cooked in a crockpot, and basically left unattended if a fire call comes in.
  • Chili can be hot. What do firemen do? Put out flames.
  • Chili is easy to make, guys take pride in their recipe and it can feed a lot of people fairly inexpensively.

Regardless of how the firemen+chili connection began, area fire departments, EMS, and police showed off their finest chili last weekend at High Plains Brewing in Laurel.

Photo by Johnny Vincent, Townsquare Media

The chili cook-off was a fundraiser for Laurel Fire Department's Sean McCleary.

Captain McCleary has been with the LVFD for 13 years and was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain tumor in September. Read our original story about Sean HERE. He was in good spirits at the event on 11/6 and his ongoing cancer treatments seem to be going well.

Photo by Johnny Vincent, Townsquare Media

13 pots of chili were entered into the competition.

Event organizer Lisa Shifley quickly arranged the fundraiser a few weeks ago and on cook-off day, they were thrilled to have a total of thirteen entries in the competition. Chili entries were submitted by fire departments, police, and first responders from Park City, Molt, Clyde Park, Red Lodge, Lockwood, Laurel, Billings, Shepherd, and the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office.

Photo by Johnny Vincent, Townsquare Media

"Celebrity" judges tried them all, from mild to wild.

I was honored when they asked me to help judge the competition, along with comedian Lukas Seely and Skip King of Ace Hardware. We were each given a judging sheet with various criteria like aroma, taste, aftertaste, texture, etc. Each chili entry had a placard that designated the "hot" level, from one flame to five.

Photo by Johnny Vincent, Townsquare Media

So, who's got the best chili?

It was fun to try all 13 entries. Most contained traditional chili ingredients such as ground beef and beans and the majority were not overly hot. One had a delightful smokiness. The winning chili had bits of corn in the recipe, adding a nice texture and natural sweetness to a very flavorful entry.

  • 1st Place - Shepherd Fire Department
  • 2nd Place - Yellowstone County Sherrif's Department
  • 3rd Place - Molt Fire Department

The event raised well over $10,000 for the McCleary family. Organizer Lisa Shifley told me they were overwhelmed by the generosity of the community. There were over 90 items in the silent auction, covering 12 full-sized tables of cool stuff. Nearly all of the chili was sold out by 7 pm (a combined 65 gallons of chili). The various fire chiefs represented at the event are considering making it an annual event with the goal of creating a First Responders Cancer Fund. Count me in for next year.

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