June 2024

Driving to School in a Fire Engine

Every year I try to bid on something at the Rio del Mar Elementary School charity auction, but I’ve never been able to afford the big ticket items. One year we got outbid on Giants tickets that went for $300 and ended up with a knitted octopus for $25.

This year, however, I promised myself I’d make my 8-year-old son’s dream come true: he wanted to be driven to school in a fire truck. In past years it was one of the most popular items in the live auction and I’m not rich. But you know, they serve free drinks at these events and the alcohol loosens wallets. And you only live once, I figured.

So, for the price of a one-person trip to Hawaii (well, $850), we got to ride in the fire truck.

The Central Fire District has offered this to schools since at least 2010, according to Capt. Rolf Lingens. That’s when he started on the force. It may have been going on before that. The schools are desperate for the financial help. Last year Rio del Mar raised $80,000 from parents and $31,000 from the auction.
The money goes to paying yard aids and art teachers and buying classroom supplies.

“We try to offer experiences for the kids, not just stuff,” Principal Meghan Green said.

The beauty of it is that it’s also a chance for the firefighters to give back to the community. The district contributes the engine; the drivers and their union donate their off-duty time to give the kids and their parents a thrill. They do five of these a year for schools between Live Oak and La Selva Beach.

Our driver David Hopper, whose mother Linda Hopper owned the great Silver Spur restaurant on Soquel Drive for decades, showed up at 7:20am. Principal Green asked us to come at 8:10am so as not to cause a major traffic jam during drop off. That was fine. It gave us time to get a tour of the engine and the firefighting devices and then have 40 minutes cruising around the beach.

My boy Parker and his three friends got on the truck with saucer-wide eyes and couldn’t stop smiling during the whole trip. When we arrived at the school, the whole second grade class came out to greet us.

“When we do it, it’s pretty awesome,” Capt.Lingens said. “I feel like it’s the best thing ever. I know it’s helping the schools and organizations that help youth. They need as much as they can get. It’s the way we give back to the community.”

By Brad Kava

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