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Tuesday, December 25, 2018


"No, not that fire truck under my tree!"

GUEST BLOG / By Eric Peterson--My wife, Teresa, takes first prize in my world for the best gift ever: She bought me a fire truck.

The truck, named “Rescue 93,” commands more than its share of attention, particularly when it’s parked in front of a liquor store and I’m stocking up on cases of wine, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
As I load booze into the fire truck, I like to wink at old ladies and tell them the boys and girls at the station need to blow off a little steam.

My wife bought me a fire truck
One of the truck’s many charms is that it’s steeped in a history of firehouse scandal.
The red 1987 Ford F-350 crew cab pickup went to auction a few years back when the disgraced San Pasqual Volunteer Fire Department was given the death penalty by the County Fire Authority.

The volunteer fire department’s capital crime: water theft.

Tom Carter, a Poway, CA, resident and owner of a palatial hilltop home, was waiting to get his property connected to the city’s metered main water line. In the meantime, he relied on well water.

Southern California was experiencing a major drought. Mr. Carter’s well was going dry, and his extensive landscaping was in danger of dying.

Mr. Carter asked Charles Dilts, a church friend and vice president of the San Pasqual Volunteer Fire Department’s board of directors, to step in and help.

Mr. Dilts, according to news reports, directed San Pasqual Fire Chief Chris Kisslinger to send the department’s 2,500-gallon tender to Carter’s property, where the homeowner had the capacity to store up to 10,000 gallons in two on-site tanks.

On four separate occasions, San Pasqual’s tender serviced Mr. Carter’s water tanks by filling up at a Poway city fire hydrant, emptying the contents into Mr. Carter’s tanks, and repeating the process several times.

The Robin Hood-in-reverse scheme constituted the theft of thousands of gallons of unmetered water from the city of Poway. A town loyalist noticed the interloping fire truck filling up, snapped a photo, and reported the culpable water rustlers to authorities.
It was a bad day for the small volunteer department, which maintained its station in the heart of the San Pasqual Valley, off Academy Road.

Poway levied a $1,000 fine, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department opened a criminal investigation, and the San Diego County Fire Authority set in motion the department’s dissolution.

Though “Rescue 93” was for all intents and purposes an innocent bystander in the water theft, the truck was banished to the ignominy of civilian life when Cal Fire assumed control of the department and moved its own equipment into the station. (“Rescue 93’s” final service call, according to the log still in the cab, was for a medical assist.)

After being sold at auction, “Rescue 93” fell into my wife’s hands as the perfect gift for the man who has (almost) everything.

Reassigned to the Sanitation Department
Under my superintendence, the comedown for “Rescue 93” continued: I repurposed the truck from the fire department to the sanitation department. 

On a weekly basis it now ferries our trash barrels to the bottom of our long driveway, where the Orwellian beasts of EDCO take the barrels overhead on robotic king crab’s arms and shake them like salt and pepper shakers.  Soon it will take our Christmas tree to its EDCO doom.  That’s a sad holiday downside.  I digress.

When “Rescue 93’s” truck bed is free of trash barrels, it makes for a convincing fire truck. A more appropriate name for the truck would be “Stolen Valor.” 

Wherever I take it, police officers wave, firemen wave, and women swoon.
Better yet, those meter watching demons on their scooters ignore it. I can park anywhere I want.

My biggest fear of taking the truck out is that I’ll come across a nasty street accident. Rather than shrug at the carnage and gore—I’m no paramedic or firefighter—I’ve rehearsed the perfect response to that citizen who flags me down: “You think this accident’s bad, you ought to see the one I’m going to …”

Commands its share of attention,
particularly when stocking up
at the liquor store
I must warn you. There’s a downside to owning a fire truck. You’ll want to acquire more. The impulse to buy gets in your blood, like collecting diesel locomotives, old cabooses, and private railroad cars.

Though I haven’t told Teresa, I’ve already started looking for my next fire truck. I found a vintage 1966 Seagraves fire truck that’s for sale—good tires, brakes and horns work, the windshield is cracked. 

This truck has steel steps that go up to the hose bed, which has been outfitted with benches and seat belts. The listing says the truck can be used for birthday parties and parades, but I’m thinking I’d take it downtown and run booze cruises for conventioneers and Shriners.

On another website, I found a 2003 Pierce custom pumper fire truck—the real thing—for $45,995. This one, I could just drive around.
How tempting is that?

But then again, this is precisely how bad museums get started. I can already hear my grandchildren after I pass: “But Grammie, you can’t sell Grampy’s fire trucks!”
I won’t do this to Teresa, I keep telling myself. But then again, I might.
Alas, this holiday season has narrowed, but if you’re a late gift giver by reputation consider getting a fire truck.

You can’t go wrong.

Eric Peterson's debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His most recent book, The Dining Car, won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction, the San Diego Book Award Gold Medal for Best Published Contemporary Fiction, and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Silver Medal for Literary Fiction. The story follows a former college football star who signs on as bartender and personal valet to a legendary food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car. His books are available in better bookstores and online.

Working emergency lights come in handy for DUI checkpoints

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