8 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY AUGUST 31-SEPTEMBER 6, 2023 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 Don’t be surprised if you see a fire engine driving around Monterey County with party people on board and “We Are Family” blasting from the engine’s speakers. Firefighters on a break? Have they been drinking? The answer to both is no—even though Red Engine Rides offers regular “brewery pub tours” in Monterey. The party people wave and make noise not because they are drunk, but because they are experiencing good, clean ecstasy—going for an open-roof ride in an old fire engine. And yes, the truck is real. And the firefighters on the engine are real firemen, even though Red Engine Rides is separate from their firefighting jobs. It turns out children and adults alike are crazy about fire trucks, as well as the experience of being a passenger on one, wearing a fireman jacket and a big helmet. No one knows it better than Monterey firefighter Raul Pantoja, a father of three. But while many fire stations around the U.S. offer station tours, no one really offers engine rides. That’s how the idea of a private, part-time business came to Pantoja’s mind. “We should do something like that,” he said to his colleague Corey McVeigh. However, to have a fire engine-based business, one has to have a fire truck. And that’s not something that you can order on Amazon. They found one, though, in Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County—a retired engine from the 1970s that would take part in local parades. Pantoja and McVeigh bought the vehicle and renovated it. From online research they knew there’s a niche in the market; really only a few services like it seem to be available nationwide—San Francisco, Nashville and somewhere in Texas. They researched, improved on the idea (for example, by adding upbeat pop music) and in early 2020, they opened up Red Engine Rides for birthdays, wedding parties, or people just looking for fun. “We love our jobs, but it takes a toll on us,” Pantoja says about firefighting. But people who call Red Engine have no emergency. “They come here to have a good day. And for us, it’s another great way to be woven into the community,” Pantoja adds. They hit all the age groups, partnering with MY Museum and offering short rides around downtown Monterey for children, catering to tourists and locals on other routes. Up to 10 people can be on the truck that has nice red benches and seatbelts, but otherwise looks like a firetruck should. The company has a scenic tour option along the coastline of Monterey and Pacific Grove and “holiday lights rides” for the upcoming holiday season. The latter hits such local holiday landmarks like the famous Pacific Grove Candy Cane Lane. Hiring the red engine is one delightful way to show your family around the Monterey Peninsula; they go as far as Salinas and the Salinas Valley. Locals know how to take advantage of the opportunity too, hiring the engine for private tours. Pantoja and McVeigh had someone proposing by Lovers Point; there was also a groom delivered to his bride on their big day. Would you like to play your own Spotify playlist? Not a problem. For now, the partners are able to work without additional staff, sharing the responsibility for the rides that sometimes require both of them. If they happen to give a ride to tourists and cruise down Alvarado Street or Calle Principal, they get a lot of questions about where to eat. “We don’t say anything negative,” McVeigh says, proud to be an ambassador of Monterey tourism. One thing about firemen’s work is chronic stress. Hanging out with happy people provides for a nice change for those Monterey firefighters. Another thing is that firefighters, due to their demanding job, tend to retire from the profession early. That being said, they are still young enough to be doing other jobs. McVeigh and Pantoja say they have found the way to ride an engine for years after eventual retirement, and we are all invited along for the ride. Red Engine Rides, firefighter-owned and operated. 222-RIDE, redenginerides.com Fire Break Looking for the hottest way to celebrate your birthday or propose or just have fun? Look no more. By Agata Pop˛eda A group waves to onlookers from the bed of a firetruck during a Red Engine Ride through Monterey as Raul Pantoja keeps an eye on the road. The business is so eyecatching that Pantoja and partner Corey McVeigh have received offers to buy it. “They come here to have a good day.” TALES FROM THE AREA CODE DANIEL DREIFUSS Join us for lunch as an impressive panel of federal, state and local elected officials cover topics such as: new projects taking place in their jurisdictions, new business coming to the region and important issues that have impacts on the future viability of our economy. PRESENTED BY WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 6, 2023 PORTOLA HOTEL & SPA • 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM $75 MEMBERS • $90 PROSPECTIVE MEMBERS INCLUDES LUNCH REGISTER NOW AT MONTEREYCHAMBER.COM EVENT SPONSORS