At 3:58 p.m. on Thursday, two minutes before Thanksgiving dinner was to be served at Fire Station 5 in Spenard, the red light flashed above the long wooden dining table and a low alarm sounded. Four firefighters in navy blue t-shirts scurried out the door.
It was a call about a suspicious odor at a gas station on West Northern Lights Boulevard.
The meal would have to wait.
Adaptability is all part of the holiday tradition at the firehouse, where on-duty firefighters and their families, as usual on Thanksgiving, visited, cooked, ate and moved in and out of the kitchen.
"It's always a crapshoot for who's going to be here to sit down," said Doreen Joyner. Her husband, Capt. Dan Joyner, has been with the fire company for about 29 years. Other firefighters call him the "King of Spenard" because of his long career in the neighborhood.
Since the firefighters couldn't stay home with family for a Thanksgiving meal, the family and the meal came to the firehouse.
"These people are our family," Joyner said. "I've got three families, my side, his side and the fire side."
They attend each other's weddings and baby showers. The times of the firefighter's 24-hour work days on "Shift A" always match up, as do their days off.
Each year, the Anchorage fire chief and deputy chief provide the 14 stations with a turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner.
"I don't know how it got started, but it's etched in stone now," said Fire Chief Chris Bushue.
The rest of the planning is left to the individual firefighters.
At the Spenard station, on McRae Street, preparations began Thursday morning. Joyner made an online event so families could plan what dishes to bring.
After a morning of cooking, the serving counter was overrun with food like homemade cranberry sauce, two 22-pound turkeys, glazed ham and stuffing just in time for another alarm. This time, it was a call for a citizen assist.
"We'll be back," said one firefighter as he walked out the door on a run. Then, only two firefighters remained. Chatter in the kitchen continued, some children ate and others colored in a nearby office.
"We've had many years when it's just wives and kids at the table," said Alyson Herman.
Tin foil sat ready on the counter to wrap people's plates when they ran out. Medics always eat first because they're called out so often.
Eventually, text messages came in from firefighters about return times. By around 5:30 p.m., a bit later than planned for, all 30 firefighters, spouses and children piled around the long wooden table in Spenard and continued the meal, together.
Reach Tegan Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By TEGAN HANLON