He aims to put out budget fires

A County Commission candidate bought a retired fire truck to carry his message of fiscal constraint.

Published August 19, 2006

TAMPA - Don Kruse dreamed up his campaign slogan - "Put out the Fire!" - when he kept seeing tax dollars going up in smoke.

Then, at a local auto auction, Kruse discovered the perfect vehicle to get his campaign message out to the public: a 33,000-pound, 210-horsepower fire truck.

It took three bids, the last one for $5,000 on eBay in March, but Kruse finally got the fire truck he conspicuously drives to debates and other campaign stops for his run for the Hillsborough County Commission.

The travel is slow (the 1976 Ford Pierce truck's top speed is 65 mph), expensive (the Pierce gets just 8 miles per gallon of diesel fuel) and uncomfortable (there's a small fan but no air conditioning, sparking complaints over make-up meltdowns from Kruse's wife, Rita).

But Kruse loves it.

"It's a collector's item. It's making a big impact on my life," said Kruse, 46, sales manager for Bill Currie Ford. "I bought it for the campaign. You have to get your message out to the people in the most efficient and effective manner possible."

Kruse outbid 20 other fire truck enthusiasts to buy his engine from the Hellam, Pa., Fire Department., the original owner, which had rolled up 17,280 miles on the vehicle He and his brother-in-law, a retired Tampa firefighter, flew up to pick it up.

Kruse knew it was destiny the minute he saw his new toy. The truck is No. 21, same as Kruse's winning bid.

After a quick training session, including getting operational details for the 1,000-gallon-per-minute pumper (you know, in case local government is burning up bushels of tax dollars), Kruse began the drive back to Tampa, consuming 22 hours and $454 worth of diesel fuel.

Signs showing Kruse pouring water from a fire hose on to flaming tax dollars adorn the fire truck, emblematic of his vow to cut waste from county spending.

In the GOP District 1 commission primary, Kruse faces Tampa City Council member Rose V. Ferlita, civil engineer Gary Santti and sales consultant Brad Swanson. The winner will face Mary Mulhern, the owner of a graphic arts business, in the general election.