NEWTON FALLS - Firefighters are known for dealing with heat and flames common to what is one of society's most dangerous, yet essential professions.
Saturday afternoon in downtown Newton Falls, those responsible for tamping down fires took time out to heat up a crowd of hungry citizens as the Newton Falls Firefighters Auxiliary hosted the 23rd annual Chili Cook-Off.
Richard Bauman, chief of Newton Falls Joint Fire District, was one of the many vendors serving food and drinks to the crowd.
"This is a very important event," Bauman said. "Our ladies have done this for 23 years and they donate the money back to the fire department. Then that money is used to buy equipment that the district may not be able to afford otherwise. That is what makes this a truly special day for us."
The event began early in the morning when an entire block of West Broad Street was closed off and, at 11 a.m., 18 teams of cooks began preparing their chili. At 1 p.m., activities for the public were under way and two hours later, bragging rights were on the line as the judging began for best chili.
Some of those serving up the spicy stew were veterans of the cookoff.
The top chilis
First place - Blitzburgh Chili (Ray and Doug Cochran)
Second - Andy Harvey, Newton Falls Police Department
Third - Team Fatty Fest
"We've been doing this for five years, my mom and I," Jason Baillie of All-American Chili said. "We just want to come out and support a good cause. It is important for us to support the Newton Falls Fire Department."
The 33-year-old Girard resident, who described his chili as 'medium with a little kick,' most enjoys the reaction to his culinary skill.
"I love watching the people's faces after they eat your chili and tell you it's good," he said. "That's the best feeling in the world. We've been doing this long enough to know when people really like it."
In contrast, Diane Kirkbride was a first-time cook, but the duty has been passed down through her family.
"I've helped my sister for years and this year I decided to do it on my own," Kirkbride said. "I just think that it is something good to do in order to help the fire department out. They can always use the help."
After taking some time off, Cheryl Waldorf was back at the cookoff and looking for the top prize.
"I've cooked in the chili cookoff a lot of times, but I haven't done it for the last four years," Waldorf said. "I just felt like doing it again this year and I'm having a blast."
With the many vendors dishing out chili, those in attendance were treated to an array of flavors and spices.
"My son called and told me there was a chili cookoff going on, so I came out," Sandy Ward, 54, of Mineral Ridge, said. "It's a good thing for the community and the food is great."
Others drove long distances to relish in the cuisine, like Cuyahoga Falls resident Danielle Stevens.
"We come all the way down here every year. One of our friends from work is a vendor and he makes chili. We came last year because of him and we just fell in love with it," the 30-year-old Stevens said. "Now we just make it an annual thing."
By 4 p.m., West Broad Street was teaming with people, either with a healthy serving of chili in their hands or standing in line with the anticipation of receiving a healthy dose. Organizer and member of the Newton Falls Firefighters Auxiliary, Julie Zigler, seemed impressed with the turnout.
"It has been fantastic, just awesome," Zigler said. "I couldn't ask for anything more from the community. A lot of that has to do with our terrific weather today, but it is also because of this great community that supports people. The people here are just awesome that way."
When all was said and done and the votes were tallied, Blitzburgh Chili came away with first place in the cookoff. The Blitzburgh team was comprised of Ray and Doug Cochran. Andy Harvey of the Newton Falls Police Department finished in second place and team Fatty Fest was awarded third prize.
"It was a really great day, all the way around," Zigler said. "We've had a lot of good reviews and a lot of happy people. It was a really great day and it just goes to show how great this community is and how people are willing to help."