Chelsea’s Fire at the Foothills fundraiser will be April 18

Chelsea's annual Fire at the Foothills BBQ & Chili Cook-Off will be held on April 18 from noon to 4 p.m. at Tractor Supply in Chelsea. (Contributed)

Chelsea’s annual Fire at the Foothills BBQ & Chili Cook-Off will be held on April 18 from noon to 4 p.m. at Tractor Supply in Chelsea. (Contributed)

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

CHELSEA – What started as a friendly argument between two Chelsea residents about who had better-tasting chili about five years ago has turned into a community-wide fundraising event for local groups and charities.

The annual Fire at the Foothills BBQ & Chili Cook-Off is a fundraiser for Chelsea Fire and Rescue’s fire safety program featuring Hero the Dalmatian, along with the Chelsea Kiwanis Club and March of Dimes.

This year’s event will take place April 18 at Tractor Supply in Chelsea from noon to 4 p.m.

“The whole thing started several years ago with an argument between Scott (Weygand) and Justin Fogo about who had the best chili recipe,” Chelsea Fire and Rescue Lt. Don Williamson said. “So, they decided to let some firemen be the judges, and the chili cook-off was born.”

Proceeds from the chili cook-off benefit Chelsea Fire and Rescue’s “Our Firehouse Dog – Hero” program, which allows fire department members to take Hero to schools and public events to share fire safety lessons with children.

“This program has helped get the fire safety message across to kids … because everybody loves the dog,” Chelsea Fire Chief Wayne Shirley said. “This whole program costs the city nothing. Money generated at this event pays for the whole Hero program.”

To their knowledge, Shirley and Williamson said Hero is the only trained firehouse Dalmatian dog that is a certified fire department member in the state.

“We decided to let school kids, when we got him (Hero) five years ago, name him,” Williamson said, noting the fire department received more than 150 entries. “He’ll crawl, he’ll stop, drop and roll … It’s all the things we teach the school kids.”

Proceeds from the barbecue contest benefit The March of Dimes and the Chelsea Kiwanis Club and charities it supports.

Fire at the Foothills is a sanctioned KCBS and Alabama BBQ Association Back Yard Event. As an Alabama BBQ Association State Championship Qualifying Event, points will be awarded toward the 2015 Governor’s Cup Points Chase.

“The money the Chelsea Kiwanis Club raises goes to local charities and local non-profits around the area,” Weygand said. “It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a great way to bring in the spring.”

Weygand said nearly 3,000 people came out to last year’s event.

Admission is free, but donations are welcome, he said.

The City of Chelsea assists the Kiwanis Club with running the event.

“We need this to grow,” Shirley said. “We want people from everywhere to bring chili over.”

Total prize money for the event is $2,000. No entries will be allowed after April 3.

The event will also include live music, a kids’ play area and barbecue and chili tastings.

For more information or to sign up for the cook-off, visit the Fire at the Foothills BBQ & Chili Cook-Off page on Facebook.