San Ramon, California Firefighters to Use Flashy PT Cruisers

When San Ramon firefighters go to schools to teach safety and character programs, they won't simply arrive in a red Jeep Cherokee or other fire vehicle.

The San Ramon Valley Fire District is set to buy two new PT Cruisers -- maybe with flames painted on their flanks -- for the specialists.

The price: $35,476.

"It's stretching the envelope," acknowledged Mike Sylvia, an assistant chief in charge of operations for the San Ramon Valley Fire District. He said he encountered some doubters when he first proposed buying the novel vehicles.

"I said, 'Think about it,'" Sylvia said. "It shook a few people up initially, but once I explained it to them," they understood the proposal, he said.

As have other firefighters, San Ramon's have long visited schools. Firefighters nationwide teach children how to safely escape from choking smoke in burning buildings.

In a rare joining of forces, San Ramon firefighters and city police officers have adopted the Character Counts program. It is a move away from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program, the anti-drug-focused character-building program in schools for the past 20 years.

Character Counts goes into character issues beyond being clean and sober and is incorporated into curricula and, eventually, entire schools, families, real-world hiring practices and communities, advocates say.

And so the PT Cruisers not only have cargo space for carrying fire prevention stuff, but they attract attention in their own right.

But in lean financial times in which sobering budget cuts are a reality, do safety specialists have to tool up to the school in a PT Cruiser?

"They were running around in Jeep Cherokees," Sylvia said. "We did a job analysis, and asked what type of vehicle is needed."

The PT Cruiser will capture more young imaginations, he said, because young people are likely to take a second look at such a car rather than a, well, duller vehicle.

"We're going to doll them up a little bit," Sylvia said, with graphics. "One of my guys who does all of our pinstriping, he's even offered to paint flames on them."

The idea of PT Cruisers caught the attention of some young people who have been visited by firefighters at their schools.

"Some girls will go, 'Ooh, cool,' and some girls will go, 'Eew, disgusting,'" said Sara Israel, 12, a seventh-grader at the Athenian School in Danville, who took a break from the action Wednesday at San Ramon's Central Park to consider the matter.

Allie Tao, 12, also an Athenian seventh-grader, is impressed with the idea, especially the flames. "It would be awesome, because it actually represents what they're doing," she said

The San Ramon firefighters, who focus primarily on grades K-6 but who also reach out to students in middle school and high school, lug around an array of equipment, and so they need cargo space, Sylvia said.

"If you look at the price, it's pretty economical," he said, compared with full-size or mid-size police and fire sedans, which are specially built with public safety packages that include heavy-duty suspensions and electrical systems that cost much more than typical vehicles.

Distributed by the Associated Press