California Buff Used Own Engine To Extinguish Blaze

LA HABRA HEIGHTS, Calif.-- A man who used his own fire engine to extinguish a car fire has been warned not to butt into official city firefighting operations.

City Attorney Sandra Levin has issued a "cease and desist" letter demanding George Edwardz not to do any more firefighting after he helped put out a car fire across the street from his house.

"We have been informed of your participation in the response to a recent car fire within the boundaries of La Habra Heights," Levin stated in the letter.

"Accordingly we write to remind you of the prohibition on unauthorized firefighting activities within the city and to demand that you cease and desist from conducting any firefighting, rescue and/or paramedic operations within the city limits of La Habra Heights," the letter stated.

Levin also threatened Edwardz that any attempt to fight fires would be in violation of the city's municipal code and is a misdemeanor.

Edwardz said he was shocked by the letter, saying that he did nothing wrong by helping out in the Oct. 12 incident on Harbor Boulevard.

"I'm a criminal because I put out a fire," he said. "That's great. I'd gladly do it again."

Edwardz said the incident began at about 9 a.m. when he saw the fire through a window of his home and decided to investigate in his 1980 Pierce mini-pumper fire engine.

A La Habra police officer was at the scene, and Edwardz asked him if he needed help.

"I told him I'm not a firefighter and he said, `That's OK. The Fire Department is on its way. Put some water on it."'

Los Angeles County firefighters showed up and used water from Edwardz' engine, finishing the job, he said. La Habra Heights firefighters arrived later.

Levin said Thursday she couldn't comment on the Oct. 12 incident, saying the letter wasn't necessarily aimed at what happened then.

"This letter isn't really intended as a criticism of something that has happened so far," she said. "It's a precautionary measure so that, in the event of a significant emergency, the responsible agencies have unimpeded access."

Edwardz said he bought the engine for $7,200 in March with the idea of donating it to the city in order to provide more service for the east side of La Habra Heights.

He has proposed that a small station be put on his property on Fullerton Road.

When the city rejected the donation and the proposal for another station, Edwardz said he decided to form a volunteer fire department for the east side of La Habra Heights.

It consists of Edwardz and two professional firefighters, who don't want to release their names, according to Edwardz.

Edwardz said he became concerned when it took emergency responders 12 minutes to get to his house after he had an accident several years ago.

City Manager Ron Bates said the city rejected the donation because it has all the equipment it needs.

Bates said the city already is well served thanks to a mutual aid program with Los Angeles County, which now serves La Habra.

"The response times for residents from a combination of our station, the La Habra station and the Hacienda Heights station is wonderful," he said.

Bates said the average response time is about five minutes.

Republished with permission of the Whittier Daily News.

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