Carlin Manufacturing of Fresno, California, built 11 MKUs between 1990 and 1991 for Cal Fire. Based on Carlin Model 36F5 High Mobility Kitchen, the MKU was designed to feed 1,200 persons three meals per day. When augmented by a support trailer, water tender, generator and mobile dishwashing unit, Cal Fire found that the MKU can feed over 2,000 people a day at an incident base camp.
As you see in the video, the conservation camps have purchased additional equipment to boost the operating capacity of the MKU. They often set-up an outdoor kitchen. Inmate cooks use gas grills and griddles to compliment the equipment inside the MKU.
Each 36-foot trailer contains the following cooking equipment:
- 2 dual-stack convection ovens
- 2 (30-gal.) tilt skillets
- 1 (40-gal.) steam-jacketed kettle
- 6-burner gas range with conventional oven
- 1 meat slicer
- 2-tank coffee brewing system
- 2 twin-well steam lines
VIDEO DESCRIPTION: Firefighters working a wildfire need to eat 3,000 calories a day. These meals usually consist of sack lunches or MREs. That is why CAL FIRE Mobile Kitchen Units (MKU) have been bringing food to firefighters battling wildfires for the past 15 years. There are eleven MKUs placed throughout California that can each feed up to 2,000 people. They can be set up and ready to serve within four hours.
"It's an unusual resource. The Forest Service, by law, they have to hire mobile kitchens. And so, they will do that because that's how they're directed. But for CAL FIRE, if we're running an incident, we just request these and out they go. But, no, it's a very limited resource. It does take a lot of funding and staffing to make it work," says Bill Peters, CAL FIRE's Public Information Officer.
Inside, the trailer houses ovens, a stove, and large vats for cooking beans and soup. These are used to store canned goods when not in use. Last minute touch-up cooking is done inside the trailer, while heavy duty cooking is done outside. The food is high quality because the units are staffed by conservation camp inmates, who are paid $1 an hour for fires.
A chef hired by CAL FIRE creates the menu and directs the inmates. Bill Peters says, "There's actually a little bit of competition between the different Mobile Kitchen Units as to who puts out the best menu. Are we getting salmon tonight? Steak tomorrow? And I've been out where the cooks are good enough cooks, they can do Chicken Cordon Bleu." The variety is appreciated by firefighters who spend days fighting wildfires.
There are numerous support vehicles that carry tables, chairs, and salad bar equipment. The other vehicles are generators to keep everything up and running, and refrigerator trailers.