By Ed Brock
Sitting back to swig down some water, Jesus Oliveras paused to appraise the bowl of chili he was downing.
”It has a little kick to it. You can see I'm really sweating,“ said Oliveras, a civilian employee at First U.S. Army Headquarters on Army Garrison Fort Gillem in Forest Park.
Oliveras was sampling the ”house chili“ at the 9th annual Chili Taste Test competition on Tuesday, an event that is part of the fort's celebration of Fire Prevention Week. This year it was the savory stew prepared by Forest Park Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts versus the piquant potpourri of Celeste Penn representing the Fort Gillem Fire Department.
”I feel like I have at least a 50 percent chance,“ Buckholts said.
As soldiers and civilian workers gathered for the taste test and to down the house chili prepared by Fort Gillem Fire Crew Chief Sgt. Marvin Whisby, Buckholts, a three-time competitor in the contest, explained some of his recipe.
”I try to put a couple of different kinds of peppers in mine to make it a little more tasty,“ Buckholts said. ”I like mine a little spicy.“
Penn, who was cooking for her fourth competition, declined to reveal the specifics of her formula.
”It's one of my favorite dishes,“ she said. ”I try to improve it every time I make it.“
Whisby, who has been cooking chili for his fellow firefighters for six years, had a more esoteric idea on what it takes to make good chili.
”Loving what you're doing and wanting to please others with what you're doing,“ Whisby said. ”It's all about the mission.“
The three judges sampled both entries, ascertaining the quality of their aroma and taste, and then selected Penn's entry as the winner.
On the table at the front of the make-shift dining hall stood a proclamation from the fort's commander, Col. Angela Manos, regarding the purpose for the contest. Each year the National Fire Protection Association and, this year at least, the Department of Homeland Security's United States Fire Administration, sponsor Fire Prevention Week to spread awareness of fire safety.
This year's theme is ”Use Candles With Care. When You Go Out, Blow Out“ and the National Fire Protection Association Web site cites its survey that supports the need for that focus.
The survey showed that many adult Americans are careful when using candles. About 91 percent of the 1002 adults included in the survey said they never deliberately left candles burning overnight and 81 percent said they never inadvertently fall asleep while candles are burning.
”Placing candles a safe distance from anything that can burn and extinguishing them when you leave the room are important measures when using candles in the home,“ said Judy Comoletti, NFPA assistant vice president for public education.
The survey also revealed that about 18 percent of the respondents did not have a household rule about not allowing candles to burn overnight and young adults under 55 are more likely to deliberately leave a candle burning overnight.
According to the association's statistics 41 percent of home candle fires start in the bedroom, resulting in a quarter of fire deaths associated with candle fires. About 11 percent of home candle fires start after someone falls asleep.
The NFPA suggests that always staying in the room where candles are being burned and keep the candles a foot away from curtains, mattresses and anything that can burn. Candles, matches and lighters should be kept away from children. Candles should be kept on sturdy holders and on uncluttered surfaces. When lighting candles keep hair and clothing away from the flames, and when extinguishing candles avoid splattering wax.
Also, avoid using candles during power outages and use flashlights instead.