Hastings Firefighters' Fired-Up Chili Wins CBS Cookoff Semifinal

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Hastings Fire Department won the semifinals of the CBS Radio Chili Cookoff and will compete in the finals on Jan. 12, 2014. Photo Credit: Jen Corso
Hastings firefighters Brian Schnibbe and Don Wemer at the Chili Cookoff on December 8. Photo Credit: Bryan Healy

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - Members of the Hastings Fire Department's Protection Engine Co. No. 1 have won the right to represent Westchester County in the CBS Radio New York’s Firehouse Chili Cook-Off finals set for Jan. 12.

The Hastings fire crew won its Tri-State area competition on Sunday, Dec. 8 at Miller’s Ale House in Levittown, Long Island and will next compete in the championship finals to be held at 16 West 36th St. in Manhattan.

Head Chef Don Wemer Sr., who is the owner of a contracting company, Hastings youth swim coach as well as a six-year fire department volunteer, is the chili master for the No. 1 crew. He said he has been cooking since he was 14 and spent some time in the restaurant business as a young man.

"It's about using the best ingredients you can find and years of experience in the kitchen," Wemer said. "Chili is basically a very simple dish. I adjust things as I cook, a little bit of this and a pinch of that. You can go by smell and know that it's working."

The semifinal round was Wemer's chance to impress the judges, which included former New York Giant running back and CBS Sports Radio host, Tiki Barber, as well as former NFL punter Sean Landeta. The voting ended up going to a fan vote as both Barber and Landeta could not agree on winner. Protection Engine was crowned the winner with 36 percent of the audience vote.

Wemer said the semifinal win was a bit of a surprise despite his many years cooking at home and at the firehouse. Wemer and his team defeated firehouses from Long Beach Professional Fire Fighters (Long Island), Glenville Volunteer Fire Company (Greenwich, CT), and Rockville Center Fire Department (Nassau County).

"I was confident that the chili was good, but you never expect to win, so when they announced the winner we were excited," Wemer said. "There are a lot of great firehouse cooks. We're happy to have a chance to win it all."

Regardless of the outcome, Protection Engine already considers the experience a success because each semi-finalist received a $500 donation to a charity of its choice “Hope for the Warriors” , a nonprofit organization to help enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families, and families of the fallen.

The Hastings Fire Department currently has twp members who are serving with the military; George Moore, who was recently promoted to Petty Officer with the U.S. Navy serving on the USS George Washington in Japan and Pfc. Don Wemer, Jr. who is with the Marines as a Red Patch basic landing support specialist stationed at Camp Pendleton in Ca.

Fans and friends are encouraged to attend, and help cheer on Wemer and the his team and sample some chili. The grand prize winning firehouse will receive VIP tickets to a 2014 New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium as well bragging rights. 

"We'll be going up against New York City fire companies, so we need the support of a Westchester audience," Wemer said. "We had a yellow bus full of Hastings supports at the semifinals. We invite everyone to come to New York City on Jan. 12."

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