Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Firefighter Told To Move Them

Firefighter Told To Move Them
May 23, 2007

California - The white front and red glittery strip of lights on a 1966 fire engine peeks out from behind a wooden fence in a newer suburban area. They give away a neighborhood fixture: Mark Hathaway's two historic fire engines. When Hathaway isn't at work as a city firefighter in San Jose, he is tinkering with the engines' wiring and shining their sleek red surfaces. He has become legendary at Cowell Elementary School, a couple of blocks away, for regularly giving his 7-year-old daughter, Melaine, and her friends rides to school in the engines. His 3-year-old son, Mathew, rides in a child seat.

But city code enforcement officials say the engines break a city law banning vehicles over 8,000 pounds in residential areas, even on private property. The fire engines weigh 24,000 to 25,000 pounds each. He has until June 11 to move them.

"The reason I bought my house was because it would house my fire engines," said Hathaway, 36, who moved to Woodside Way about 5 and a half years ago and bought one of the engines soon after. "I chose the city of Manteca. It is supposed to be 'The Family City' and my fire engines are part of my family. I have two young kids who would be very sad to see them leave, and so would I."

The hoses and exterior fixtures would be vulnerable to vandalism at a storage park for recreational vehicles, he said. Replacing the windshield on the 1966 fire engine would cost at least $1,000, and the round, metal siren proudly centered on the vehicle is $1,400.

A well-wisher whom Hathaway had never met showed up at his door and offered him a spot of land for the trucks, but Hathaway said he would have to put money into a shed to house them securely.

Hathaway grew up next to San Jose's Fire Station 9. By age 5, he had acquired a love for the engines, visiting the station and then saving up money for toy engines. The first real one came when he turned 18. It was a 1970 fixer-upper he later sold to San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico. He bought the 1966, his most recent, about three years ago.

Trouble arrived April 28 when someone sent an anonymous, online complaint to the city's government outreach site reporting the engines and a camper in the driveway. An anonymous caller also left a voice message with a complaint about the camper protruding onto the sidewalk.

The city sent a courtesy letter to Hathaway on May 1 stating the camper couldn't be parked in the driveway and the engines violated the weight rule.

School, neighborhood support

Neighbors praised Hathaway and signed 24 letters to the city asking that the engines be allowed to stay. But the City Council voted 4-0 Monday evening not to pursue changes to the code or an exception for Hathaway.

"I support you," Councilman Vince Hernandez said. "It is all those 12 or 13 or 14 other people who will line up behind you and say, 'What about me?' (that I can't support)," he said. "It's a difficult situation."

Hathaway supporter Jim Rachels, a lifelong Manteca resident whose children, ages 7 and 10, have attended field trips to Hathaway's trucks, scoffed at implying that letting the engines stay would open a Pandora's box to comparable requests.

"It's embarrassing, quite frankly," Rachels, 44, said. "Mark has been there for 5 and a half years without any issues. He offers a community service. He has field trips, he is at every event, and his passion as a firefighter is an asset to our community."

Cowell Principal Harriet Myrick shook her head at the possibility of no longer seeing children arrive at school on the engine.

"It won't ever be the same," she said. "Kids will never have that thrill of riding to school in a fire engine. How many kids get to do that?

"He offers a free service, and in education today, there is not a lot of that."

The city's Fire Department does presentations only for students in grades 2-4, she said. Hathaway has given his presentations to students at Cowell and at Woodward elementary schools and brought his truck to community events.

The effort earned him the name "The Fire Engine Guy" and sometimes, "The Fire Truck Guy."

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Hathaway said. "If I can talk to a lawyer and take it to court? I don't know. I don't think it is fair."

Written by Modesto Bee

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