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Folks Feeding Firefighters Face Formidable Federal Formula

The State Board of Finance sets South Dakota’s state per diem rates and lodging rates and handles requests for work-related moving and hosting expenses. It consists of the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of School and Public Lands, Commissioner of the Bureau of Administration, and the Commissioner of the Bureau of Finance and Management or their designated subordinates.

On December 18, five subordinates from those offices met (still a quorum, though no one showed from the offices of the Governor, Treasurer, or Commissioner of School and Public Lands) to discuss, among other things, reimbursement to the Custer State Park Resort Company for firefighter meals during during the Vineyard wildfire near Hot Springs in August. And believe it or not, the Board actually said No to paying for firefighter food… not without more documentation:

Regarding the first request from Department of Agriculture for the meals provided to the firefights during the Vineyard Fire, it was noted according to federal law firefighters are to be provided 6,000 calories per day. This request involves two separate things. One is the Home Station Per Diem request, wherein a list of the home station employees was not included. The second falls more as an action item, with the breakfast and lunch cost per individual being higher than the state rate. A motion was made by Leah Svendsen and seconded by Colin Keeler to defer action on the request until more information could be obtained regarding the list of names or the number of individuals meals were provided to. A roll call vote was taken, and the motion carried unanimously [South Dakota Board of Finance, meeting minutes, 2018.12.18].

The documents submitted by the Department of Agriculture show that the Custer State Park Resort Company wants $6,895.85 for 515 meals provided on August 13 and 14:

Highlighting mine; Acting Secretary Dustin Oedekoven, Dept. of Agriculture, letter to Board of Finance, 2018.11.07.
Highlighting mine; Acting Secretary Dustin Oedekoven, Dept. of Agriculture, letter to Board of Finance, 2018.11.07.

$13 per meal notably exceeds the state rates of $6 for breakfast and $11 for lunch. But then the 6,000 calories a firefighter needs each day to outflank and beat down flames notably exceeds the 2,400 to 3,000 calories that we active grown-up mortals need.

Secretary Oedekoven included with his request a few sheets of federal sack lunch specifications from the National Interagency Fire Center. Each firefighter sack lunch must have items from each of these six categories:

NIFC Sack Lunch Standards
NIFC Sack Lunch Standards
NIFC Sack Lunch Standards
NIFC Sack Lunch Standards

Sandwiches have to have at least a quarter pound of real meat, not bologna. Meatloaf, ground beef, and Spam need special approval. Salads can’t be Grandma’s heavy mayo potato salad; they’ve got to have veggies, with maybe beans, pasta, couscous, or quinoa, and the firefighters have to get other fruits and veggies on top of that. Then six energy snacks (Snickers are allowed, but is that really what you want to give a guy who’s going to be fighting fire on a 90-degree day?), four packs of condiments, two napkins, and two moist towelettes.

The NIFC lists four sample lunches… which is useful, because they require that lunch items not be repeated in a three-day period:

NIFC, sample sack lunches for firefighters.
NIFC, sample sack lunches for firefighters.

The feds also set rules on packing the meals:

  • Sack lunches shall be bagged in heavy duty paper sacks to protect the lunch.
  • The ordering agency must be able to distinguish between vegetarian, gluten- free and regular sack lunches by use of different colored bags or clearly distinguishable markings.
  • Individual sack lunches shall be packed in cardboard boxes holding exactly 20lunches in each box and shall be ready at the agreed upon time.
  • The sack lunches may not be made any longer than eight hours prior to delivery. A longer or shorter period of time may be deemed appropriate by the ordering agency depending on refrigeration or storage conditions utilized. If delivery by the Contractor is required, the items shall be kept at a temperature cool enough to prevent degradation of the food items.
  • Sandwiches shall be packaged in plastic sandwich bags or other packaging. The packaging shall keep the sandwich intact, and or not excessively add to waste disposal; i.e. no Styrofoam.
  • The sandwiches shall be packaged and dated the day they were prepared. The sack lunch bags shall be stamped or labeled as follows: “Prepared on (date and time)” [National Interagency Fire Center, Sack Lunch Specifications, downloaded 2019.01.05].

Feeding firefighters is obviously more complicated than it will be feeding Jason Ravnsborg when he’s out campaigning for the next four years while pretending to be Attorney General. The firefighters got fed in August; now let’s pay the necessary bills.


  1. Porter Lansing 2019-01-05

    I’d charge $18 and I’d get it plus a 13% tip from the state, besides. All those regs are proper. There’s Republicans involved and their greed in business must be countered with regulations. (If Dems ran the state most of the “unnecessary regulations” that Repubs hate could be eliminated.)

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-05

    Fires don’t put themselves out (well, not quickly enough to satisfy our desires). It takes people, and people take fuel. But perhaps it doesn’t hurt to pause and ask the department to count the number of people we actually fueled to fight that fire.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-01-05

    A list of guests (firefighters) as well as supervisors and others who ate should have been submitted with the invoice, I’d think. And, each eater should have signed for his dinner. (I’m an old farm kid and lunch was what we got between breakfast and dinner and between dinner and supper. It was brought out to us in the field, usually by a daughter of the lady of the farm.)
    *If a supervisor invited a non firefighter to eat (member of the press, politician, security agent, blogger etc.) their meal should be paid for, also. South Dakota nice, you know.

  4. Porter Lansing 2019-01-05

    PS … nice seven section alliteration

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-05

    I aim to please brain and ear, Porter. I trust you and the Custer Resort folks have the taste buds covered. :-D

  6. Porter Lansing 2019-01-05

    Those sample menus are exceptional. Well balanced, nutritious and varied in appeal. BTW, to those who need to pay the bill. Don’t forget that each sack had virtually two meals within. $13 for two lunches ain’t bad. I’m assuming another entity delivered the sacks. If not then the purveyor deserves hazardous duty pay for going into a forest fire zone. *Hopefully a dozen or so extra sacks were prepared and delivered (free of charge) just in case. No one should go without in that situation. Or … some might want seconds.

  7. Debbo 2019-01-05

    Outstanding alliteration.

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