By Bob Vaccaro
Five years ago, the unique community of Cherry Grove, New York, located on Long Island’s Fire Island took delivery of an also unique piece of fire apparatus. It was a custom-built mini pumper for better or worse. Fast forward to 2020, after using this custom-built unit, the department wanted to update its fleet and decided to go ahead with having a second unit built of the same design.
Fire Island (NY) is a barrier island located off the coast of Long Island. It is roughly a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland at three different locations. Because there are no roads, paths and boardwalks provide residents and tourists with the only means of getting around with bicycles and wagons to carry groceries or supplies. No cars are allowed on the island.
Transportation from community to community is by water taxi. There are larger communities that have a small downtown area with bars, restaurants, and shops while others are scaled down and some only residential.
The island itself is less than a mile wide and 32 miles long. It has 17 resort communities with nine volunteer fire departments that provide fire protection and EMS service. Most of the fire apparatus in these fire departments are custom-made golf carts and Cushman-type vehicles that are easy to navigate around the various communities. However, in recent years, larger mini- and midi-pumpers have been the norm in eight fire departments on the island.
According to Chief Craig Williams, “The design criteria for the new unit was pretty simple. The vehicle had to be small like the department’s other vehicles and be able to maneuver around the community along wooden boardwalks and pathways no wider than five to six feet. “We didn’t need a water tank because we have hose closets strategically placed around the community that store a great deal of hose as well as fire hydrants that are available to us during a fire,” Williams says. “We did want a pump that would be powerful enough to get water on a fire with an initial attack line.”
During the initial planning, no one wanted to build the truck. But Paul Gurney, the president of Neville Fire Apparatus, a local fire truck dealer and apparatus repair company, took an interest in the build. “Paul drew up the design of the vehicle himself,” Williams says. “He then contacted Taylor-Dunn, a well-known manufacturer of gas and electric vehicles for aircraft, military, and other industrial applications.”
“Using the Taylor-Dunn chassis, Gurney constructed the body; installed a Darley 500-gpm pump; constructed a small hosebed compartment; and mounted all of the equipment, radios, and emergency lighting,” Williams continues. “On the second rig, we mounted a Little Giant Ladder on one side and also an under carriage exhaust.”
Cherry Grove is a unique community in that it only has a few commercial establishments with limited access for larger fire apparatus. The hamlet has approximately 300 houses on 41 acres, a summer seasonal population of 2,000, and a year-round population of 15. Wooden boardwalks are the only way you can get around the community.
The Cherry Grove Fire Department (CGFD) has relied on small Cushman-type vehicles for its fire department for many years.
“So, the design of the first vehicle worked so well that we wanted a second vehicle to complement the first vehicle of this design,” says Williams. “We also opened a second small station on the other side of the community and would have one in each of the stations for a quicker response.”
Both units are working out well so far for the department, and officials decided in a rare honor to name the vehicle after an ex chief from 40 years ago. “Lyn Hutton was the first female fire chief that served The Cherry Grove Fire Department,” says Williams. “We considered her a real trailblazer in our community and fire department. It is a well-deserved honor as far as our members were concerned.”
There you have it: two uniquely designed fire apparatus to meet a specific need for a special response area. It involved the department’s apparatus committee and a local fire apparatus dealer to plan and build what would be a special design that would be able to respond around this tight beach community.
They really planned the build around the area it would protect and planned for the future. These mini pumpers will hopefully serve the Cherry Grove FD for years to come.
BOB VACCARO has more than 40 years of fire service experience. He is a former chief of the Deer Park (NY) Fire Department. Vaccaro has also worked for the Insurance Services Office, the New York Fire Patrol, and several major commercial insurance companies as a senior loss-control consultant. He is a life member of the IAFC.