Philadelphia Firefighter John Mooney says he never asks a dime from anyone who wants to use his fire engine.
Since buying his own engine, a 1976 Mack, in 2006 from the Waynesboro Volunteer Fire Department in south-central Pennsylvania, Mooney has parked it at block parties, tailgate parties, charity fund-raisers and even weddings. He’s navigated it through parades, military homecoming escorts and memorial processions.
He’s invested about $35,000 into the machine, including a beer tap system, a sound system and a hot tub while maintaining the vehicle’s authentic appearance and functionality – lights and sirens and all.
And his only reward has been his personal enjoyment and the satisfaction in knowing he’s brightened the spirits of countless children and adults.
Earlier this month, some inconsiderate criminals showed their appreciation for his investment of time and money by straying into the gated lot where Mooney parks the fire engine, breaking into the vehicle and driving it into the Delaware River.
The incident happened probably during the early morning hours of Dec. 7. Mooney learned about it late that morning and wasn’t able to get someone to fish the vehicle from the river until that evening after the tide had fallen.
Now, he’s offering another $5,000 from his own pocket to identify and find the culprits.
“It’s just senseless destruction,” Mooney said.
A Parkwood resident, Mooney works as an aide at Battalion 13 at Frankford and Linden avenues. Like many firefighters, he loves the job so much he models his personal life around public service, too.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he traveled to the Gulf Coast to assist in relief efforts there. When he returned to Philadelphia, the fire department hosted a “muster” — that’s fire jargon for a large social gathering of firefighters — at the city’s Fire Academy. That’s where he first spotted the retired Waynesboro engine.
“They had it for sale, so I said I’d buy it, even though I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” Mooney said.
He soon figured out the second part.
In coordination with Chief Inspector Anthony Boyle of the city’s police department and the Marine Corps Law Enforcement League, he used it to help escort U.S. military men and women returning home from overseas combat.
He brought it to a fund-raiser for the Capt. John Taylor Memorial Fund, named in honor of the Philadelphia Fire Department commander who lost his life in 2004 when he became trapped in a Port Richmond rowhouse blaze caused by an indoor marijuana growing system.
The truck has also appeared in the annual Holmesburg-Mayfair Thanksgiving Parade on Frankford Avenue.
“It’s been all over the place,” Mooney said. “[But] I don’t rent it out at all.”
He parked it at the Quaker City Yacht Club in Tacony, where he’s been a longtime member. Some members and guests were at the club late on Dec. 6. The last of them left at about 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, Mooney said.
After dawn that morning, a member who also is a retired police detective returned to the club to find the submerged fire engine. It had been driven down the club’s private boat ramp into the water. Only the cab roof and part of the hot tub remained above the surface.
Mooney was at work when he got the call. He notified police. Another club member found a friend whose father has a heavy-duty tow service. Police divers attached the tow line to the submerged truck.
In reconstructing the crime, Mooney noted that the engine was parked about 500 feet from the water, so somebody had to start the engine. Nobody would’ve been able to push it that far.
Although Mooney had locks installed on the vehicle’s doors for security, there is no locking mechanism on the ignition.
The crooks smashed a window to unlock a door and enter the cab. Mooney thinks that they used one of his tools to break the glass. The crooks then tossed the tool to the ground, where police recovered it in hope of getting some fingerprints from it.
According to Mooney, gaining access to the parking lot probably wasn’t a problem for the crooks. A lock on the gate was already broken.
The club has seen some random vandalism recently and had been planning to buy security cameras. But Mooney says there’s no reason to believe that a personal grudge against him or the club motivated the vandalism.
No additional vandalism occurred that night.
Mooney is paying out of pocket for the reward and the repairs, although he doesn’t know if the fire truck will make a full recovery. He managed to get the waterlogged engine running again, but it doesn’t sound too good. The gauges still have water in them, he said.
Mooney is administering the reward on his own. Information must lead to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with a tip about the case may call Northeast Detectives at 215-686-3153. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org