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All The Fire Cakes

The Firefighter Husband

I met my husband (George) over 15 years ago when I moved to Chicago at my first real job after college. He was the jokester that didn’t quite fit the corporate mold. He has had a way to always make me laugh & still does to this day.

Ever since I met him, his dream has always been to become a Chicago firefighter. After 10 years on the waiting list, his dream came true & he graduated from the fire academy in 2008 to become apart of the Chicago Fire Department (CFD). Sometimes, I still don’t know what I want to do for a living, yet he had known his entire life & was determined to become a fireman. Through the years of job hopping, I’ve continued to envy his dedication & passion for firefighting.

Being a Firefighter’s Wife

With three kids, George has been an incredible father. It is not surprising that a man who is willing to sacrifice his own life to save others would be an amazing dad. My kids adore him & are so proud to have a fireman father… especially when their dad would be on duty & come to their school to run the fire drills. (I mean how cool is that!)

His 24-hr on, 48-hr off schedule makes life interesting as well. For some reason, emergencies always seems to happen on those 1 out of 3 days he is not home. As a baker, I have however been able to use the 24 hours away to my advantage when crafting surprise cakes for him. I’m actually pretty sure that every cake I’ve made for him has been a surprise… although I do have to admit that George is a bit oblivious. (Ha!)

Fire Cake Journey

What I love about having pictures of all my cakes is to be able to see the progression of caking skills through time & practice. I especially love learning new techniques mostly from trial & error.

First Firetruck Cake

George’s initial assignment after the fire academy was Engine 4 at the old Cabrini Green station. This was my first attempt at making a 3D firetruck cake. As you can see, there was much room for improvement. 😏 I decided to make the wheels from Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts. I also didn’t work much or well with fondant at the time, so I smeared black buttercream on top of the fondant to achieve the black color.

After a few years, George crossed the floor onto Tower Ladder 10. For anyone who doesn’t know the difference between a CFD engine and tower ladder truck (because I definitely didn’t know the difference until I became a firefighter‘s wife), an engine carries the water, gauges & hoses for the fire while the truck primarily houses the ladder & specialty tools. Not every firehouse has both but when a medical run (AKA 911 dispatch call) comes in, the assigned house is required to arrive within 4 minutes.

Fun fact: Four minutes is the maximum amount of time that a person can be oxygen deprived before brain damage can occur.

Starting 2008 forward, every CFD firefighter graduated as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) firefighter. A fire engine/truck almost always arrives at the medical emergency first as there are less CFD ambulances than engines & trucks.

Another Birthday Fire Cake

After much digression, I get back to the next fire cake. When George turned 35, I threw him a surprise birthday party where I made this cake without his knowledge. I was going for the brick impression on the top tier with flames on the bottom tier. Unfortunately at the restaurant, the fondant on the top tier started to sag. I learned the hard way that cream cheese frosting should not be used to ice the outside of a cake tier underneath fondant. Since then, I’ve switched to a somewhat stiff American buttercream to dirty ice cakes before covering with fondant. On the flip side, the melting look coincidentally seemed to work well with fiery flames below. 😂

Truck 10 Fiery Brick Wall Cake

Fire Helmet Cake

After 7 years at Engine 4/Truck 10, George transferred to a firehouse closer to home on Foster & Western at Truck 12. As I heard, the types of calls were much different than the high-rise emergencies in the Gold Coast/Old Town area. For another birthday, George was scheduled to work so I thought it would be fun to surprise him at the firehouse with this cake. Trying to mirror his fire helmet, this cake came out how I planned it.

I have been making fondant with marshmallows for awhile but have switched to buying Satin Ice black fondant a few years ago. One of the biggest learnings so far is that achieving pure black fondant requires a large amount of gel food color. The tricky part about using that amount of coloring breaks down the sugar & causes the fondant to become very tacky.

Lieutenant Firetruck Cake

Soon after, George’s house lieutenant was celebrating a birthday so I was asked to attempt my second firetruck cake many years later. This time, I was proud to present this cake. I didn’t own an airbrush at the time, so I used Wilton‘s “color mist” silver spray. I elevated the cake on the cake board using stacked boards in the center to raise the body of truck onto the wheels. Looking back at this cake, my biggest criticism is that it could have used more detail work.

Lake Forest Firetruck Cake

A friend later asked for a firetruck cake from his township for his son’s 1st birthday. Determined to pay more attention to detail, I did some research & found some pictures of the Lake Forest Fire Department (LFFD) fire engine for reference. As my 3rd go at making one of these, I wanted to add more flair. I searched the web to get inspiration & found some engine cakes with lights and was immediately committed. After getting the small battery operated mini-led lights, I knew just where they would go. I struggled the most with the detail on the LFFD branding & logo (going back to comment about lack of fine art skills), but someone recognized it as LFFD so it couldn’t have been all too bad. I added the diamond plate look onto the silver panels & got a little creative with the hose by spelling Cameron’s name with it on top.

Fire Hydrant Cake

After 10 years of being in the Chicago Fire Department, George got promoted to an Engineer.

Another fire department interesting fact: the role of the engineer is to drive the fire engine & supply water to the hose from the hydrant. They have to know all things about water pressure from various nozzles & pipes/hoses.

In all honesty, he wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of staying out of the “action” as he would no longer be going into the fires. What’s crazy to most (sane) people is that firefighters want to run into burning buildings! I’ve heard them brag to one another about having a “good fire” & which engine was 1st on scene.

People are always asking me how is it that firefighters run into a burning building when everyone else is running out. Courage is the answer.  

Chief Kennedy

The other sacrifice was giving up his station at Truck 12 & losing his shift of really great friends/work family. I can say from first-hand experience that the firefighters on his shift are a hardworking, passionate & dedicated crew. Especially since they ensured that my pre-mature baby that I unintentionally delivered at home was safe after delivery (I promise I will write about that story some other time!). When a promotion occurs, the engineer gets assigned a district & a shift but no particular house. Therefore George has continued to be a relief “floater” engineer, which is basically an engineer that floats to different fire houses each work day. Living out of the trunk of his car is absolutely not his favorite part of the gig at the moment.

Again, back to the cake! I had to get creative with the cake I was to make for his promotion party. I’ve already exhausted making fire engines/trucks so I thought a hydrant suits the promotion well. I even took a picture of a Chicago fire hydrant on the sidewalk in order to get the right details.

Since it would be a tall & narrow cake (I believe it was 8 layers high), I had to put a support structure in the middle to avoid collapse. I also struggled with the weight of the hydrant caps hanging in mid-air. I used rice krispy treat but realized too late that I should have used a cake board underneath both caps in order to prevent gravity from pulling them down. As you can see in these pictures, I was able to capture the full hydrant intact before the caps almost immediately fell off once I brought it outside.

I’ve said this before, but I am not a fine artist (meaning I cannot draw or paint well) but was really proud that I was able to replicate the CFD logo by hand with food coloring. Lastly, knowing the prankster that George is at his core, I thought it’d be fun to create a fondant figure of our dog pee-ing on the hydrant. There was no way to make a dog large enough to scale with the size of the hydrant so I made due with the mini-Sandy (Sandy is our pit bull/sharpei mutt doggy) & her piping gel “urine.”

Any More Fire Cakes?

So that has been the long (sorry if it was winding) journey of the fire-themed cakes made to-date. I don’t imagine this being the end of that journey. I am sure that I will continue to work to refine & find new ways to one-up myself in all future fire-related cakes.

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