Apparatus Ideas: Smithtown (NY) Fire Department Water Ice Rescue Unit


The Smithtown Fire Department, located on Long Island in Western Suffolk County, New York, has always been on top of its game as far as apparatus replacement goes. It was decided a few years ago that its older Dodge ice and water rescue unit had become obsolete and needed to be replaced.

According to present Captain Matt Creamer, “Our older unit was a spare that was stripped down and made into our older ice and water rescue unit. It served its purpose for many years for our department but was getting older and was in dire need of replacement. It also wasn’t big enough to carry the additional equipment and gear we wanted to have. We really needed a bigger apparatus not only to carry the additional ice and water gear but to take some of the equipment off our bigger heavy rescue to lessen the load of that vehicle. It also needed additional compartment space if we were to expand in the future.”

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In 2015, according to Creamer, the rescue company made an equipment request to the community’s board of fire commissioners for a new specially designed and equipped smaller rescue unit. Members had to explain to the board that there was a need for a larger vehicle for the department to expand operations. “Our calls for ice and water rescue were expanding due to two large county and state parks we had in our district as well as several mutual-aid areas that we are called in on several times per year,” says Creamer. “It was finally approved by our board, and the company went to work designing what they needed.”

The department had to go out to bid and, after several manufacturers submitted their bids, it decided to go with Maintainer Custom Body (MCB). “Hendrickson Fire Equipment, a local dealer here on Long Island that we have dealt with numerous times in the past for apparatus purchases, had recommended them for their quality and engineering expertise,” Creamer says. “Our truck committee, which consisted of members from our board of fire commissioners, chiefs’ office, and past and present rescue company officers, began work on the specs.”

Smithtown (NY) Fire Department
It is an all-volunteer department with three fire stations and seven companies. It operates seven engines, one truck, one heavy rescue, one light ice and water rescue unit, and four ambulances. Its response area is 18 square miles consisting of two county parks, several county office complexes, light industrial areas, strip shopping centers, restaurants, schools, and residences. The community’s population is 50,000. The department responds to 3,700 fire and emergency medical services runs per year.

While MCB is a smaller manufacturer, Creamer says it really came through on this vehicle. “Aside from listening to all of our ideas, they custom designed and fabricated a special hand truck for our equipment—all while we were out at their factory. This new apparatus was going to be used not only for our ice and water rescue responses but as a backup to our heavy rescue and would also respond to automatic alarms and CO detector responses.”


According to Creamer, the vehicle was designed with a 4×4 on a Ford F-550 chassis with an all-aluminum body and also large compartments to carry additional equipment. It has an interior area where responding firefighters can gear up with their special gear such as Mustang ice and water rescue suits, which will save a great deal of time. “The vehicle contains a 13.5-foot Avon web inflatable boat, whose small packaged style allows it to be carried to difficult-to-reach areas and then inflated and deployed within 60 seconds,” says Creamer.

1 The Smithtown (NY) Fire Department’s ice and water rescue unit built on a Ford F-550 chassis with MCB aluminum body. (Photos by author.)

2 An outboard motor, fans, saws, and related equipment.

3 Forcible entry tools, cribbing, and additional slide-out tool boards.

The boat pairs with a Honda 15-horsepower four-stroke motor, also stored on this new vehicle, which has a unique lift system to ensure safe storage and rapid deployment for alarms. The four-wheel-drive vehicle contains FRC SPA530-R14 telescoping lights and a 1,200-pound winch to allow for operations within state and county parks.

Creamer says the department is planning to carry a HURST Jaws of Life eDRAULIC system so the unit can be used as a backup rescue vehicle if the department’s heavy rescue is out of service or at another alarm. He adds, “The vehicle turned out great for us, and we have been training on it since we received it.”

In addition, the following additional equipment will be housed on the vehicle: Mustang ice and water rescue suits, a Mark 7 ice rescue sled, a rope reel for tag lines, an ice rescue sling, assorted cribbing and shoring equipment, three Scott self-contained breathing apparatus, forcible entry equipment, and a portable ventilation fan.

4 The unit’s rear slide-out containing a Zodiac boat, wet suits, and helmets.

5 An interior compartment with three self-contained breathing apparatus seats and portable radios and chargers.

6 Front emergency lighting with telescopic scene lights.

7 The vehicle’s front-mounted winch and scene lighting.

The Smithtown Fire Department had a unique need for a specialized light rescue vehicle to carry equipment for ice and water rescues as well as additional equipment needed to back up its larger heavy rescue unit. The department worked with its local dealer and the manufacturer to design what was right for its specific needs and response district. The result is a highly functional apparatus that has additional compartment space as well as customized mounting options designed by MCB.

Thinking outside the box to design a unique piece of apparatus for its fire district was the way to go for the Smithtown Fire Department. It will use the expanded capabilities of this new unit well into the future.

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.

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