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Image of traditional burning N.M. marionette added to new fire engine

The Santa Fe Fire Department’s new Engine 1 carries the image of Zozobra, or “Old Man Gloom” on its cab

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Santa Fe Fire Department

By Nathan Lederman
The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe Fire Department and the Kiwanis Club have given Old Man Gloom a new role — putting out fires instead of burning in them.

For nearly a century, the giant marionette officially known as Zozobra has burned to the ground every year at Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park, turning people’s collected glooms to ash. But now Zozobra has taken a new form as a brand-new fire engine dubbed Zozobra 1. The engine, which will accompany firefighters and paramedics from Murales Road’s Fire Station 1, was formally unveiled Friday morning steps away from where he has been lit on fire 98 times. The truck is decorated with decals of Zozobra mid-burn on the sides of the truck.

Fire Chief Brian Moya said his department’s first themed fire engine cost $750,000 — plus $50,000 for design work — and took about 3 1/2 years to go from design phase to getting approvals to getting it made in Louisiana to the unveiling ceremony.

“This didn’t come from me. I’ll give station 1 full credit. All the guys came to me and said, ‘Why don’t we make a design that includes Zozobra, because this is what we’ve done for [nearly] 99 years,’” Moya said in an interview.

He said Zozobra 1’s design improves on the clean cab concept, which seeks to reduce the risk of carcinogen exposure for firefighters by having compartments for their gear on the outside of the fire engine along with other measures to prevent contamination inside the vehicle.

“It’s just good to know that the chiefs are looking out [for us] behind the scenes,” Station 1 firefighter Patrick Martinez said.

The unveiling Friday morning was attended by current and former firefighters, Mayor Alan Webber, Santa Fe city councilors and a whole host of eager onlookers waiting to see the new fire engine’s unique design.

The Zozobra decals on new fire engine would not have been possible without Zozobra Event Chairman Ray Sandoval, who Moya said agreed to the fire engine’s theme the moment he suggested it.

“The chief reached out and goes, ‘Ray, I kind of have a crazy idea. ... We want Zozobra on the truck,’ and he goes ‘Do you think Kiwanis [Club] would go for that?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to speak for the entire club right now and say absolutely,’” Sandoval said.

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He said the fire department and Kiwanis Club also reached out to the Zia Pueblo for permission to use their eponymous symbol on the fire engine.

“We’re very, very proud of that because ... we want to make sure that we respect the pueblo’s rights to our beautiful Zia,” Sandoval said.

At the start of Friday’s ceremony, Zozobra 1 was draped in a large tarp, which Moya said was a spare dress for last year’s Old Man Gloom. After the tarp was removed, onlookers participated in a wet-down ceremony in which firefighters hosed down the new truck before it was dried by eager eventgoers equipped with commemorative towels.

“It’s the truck’s initiation into the department — a sort of baptism from the unit before it,” Assistant Chief Freddie Martinez said to the crowd.

The new fire engine was then pushed into Fire Station 1 as part of what Martinez called the “pushback tradition,” which harkens back to a time when firefighters had to push their equipment back into their station after responding to a fire.

Moya said Zozobra 1 will be present during Santa Fe’s Pride Parade Saturday before being used to drive a soon-to-be retired battalion chief home on Monday. He added later on that Zozobra 1 will also become a mainstay of the annual burning of Zozobra.

“Every year during Zozobra this will be the truck that’s behind it when it’s burning. This will be the truck that’s protecting it before we light it on fire. ... It’s about bringing community and the fire service as one and knowing that there’s no other truck in the world like this truck,” Moya said.

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