LAND O'LAKES — There is something about fire trucks that make people go all googly-eyed. Maybe it's the gorgeous red or the flashing lights and sirens. It's also being able to touch something that has history — a machine created to pull up to the curb of terror and destruction and death and miraculous rescues.
Touching it, you can imagine the adrenaline of booted firefighters not knowing if this could be their last run. You could see them sooty, sweat-crusted, hands over their faces, content with a life saved or numb from a life lost, aching to go home and take a shower and hug their kids.
"I wish it could talk to me," said Gary Guy, a firefighter who just bought his own fire engine and has started a business renting it out for events.
"I want to know its stories."
Guy is 36 and grew up in Tampa and then joined the Navy. After getting out, he did odd jobs for a few years and then became a volunteer firefighter and then full time with Hillsborough. Firefighting flooded his heart — it just clicked. He loved the bond firefighters have with each other.
"It fit," he said. "I knew this was what I needed to do."
With his new business — Old Cracker Fire Company — he's cut back to volunteering again. He's always wanted his own fire engine and in February, he and his wife, Amber, began searching online and found one for sale in North Carolina. It's a 1973 Ford-Howe and was still in service until the day Gary and Amber flew in to pick it up. They drove it back to Land O'Lakes, all 605 miles with no air conditioning or radio, and saw first-hand the effect of a fire engine on people. Strangers shouted out questions about it at gas stations. People just wandered up to look at it and touch it. Drivers kept motioning for Guy to sound the siren.
Guy felt like this was a bit of fate, as the day the truck first went into service — Sept. 8, 1973 — also was his second birthday, on which he got a cake shaped as a fire engine. Guy's main influence in his life was his maternal grandfather, Emmette Cannon, who died in 1996. Guy still feels lost without him and thinks of him every day. He named the truck in his honor.
"He was my best friend," Guy said. "And he would have loved this fire engine."
Guy and his wife married a year ago after finding each other on Match.com. Both had been through difficult marriages and were single parents — their children are only three weeks apart, Gary has a son named Logan Guy and Amber has a daughter named MacKenzie Suma. They're both 5 now. Gary Guy adores children and that has been a catalyst for his new business. Sure, he wants to make money. But his main goal for doing all of this is to teach fire safety to children and adults — drawing them in by the cool truck and then giving them an important message.
Guy hopes to one day have several fire engines. He wants to buy some land and build a two story firehouse. He and his family would live on the top floor and then the bottom would be designed just like a real fire station. People could come for classes in fire safety and kids could take field trips there. It would be open to anyone wanting to see the trucks or learn about firefighting, how its done and the history of it.
His dream is a long way off right now. He just got this business running. Guy also found a fire dog about a week ago. "Every fire engine needs a dog, right?" he said. Guy saw a woman abusing a 6-month old puppy and he stopped her and took the dog, a red hound and lab mix who is big and sweet and named Howe, after the fire engine. Howe has a good life now, snoozing on soft couches and cuddling with the kids. He will ride with Guy to events. Amber wants to find Howe a little firefighter suit or at least a hat.
Guy has his first event this Saturday, the Founders' Day Parade in Zephyrhills.
"It's scary," Guy said, of taking this huge leap into owning his own business. But he feels like this is what he's being pulled to do, so he's going to roll with it. Hopefully, it will all turn out.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609. Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.