Northeast Times

Who took my truck?

That’s what John Mooney wants to know. The Phil­adelphia fire­man is of­fer­ing a re­ward in his quest to find the thieves that drove his private fire en­gine in­to the Delaware River.

John Mooney stands in front of his fire truck which van­dals drove in­to the river on Decem­ber 7.

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 wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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