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Nissequogue to renovate firehouse, switch dispatch services

The village fire department, which will spend $500,000 to upgrade the firehouse, is handling a record number of calls, officials say.

Chief Russell von Frank of the Nissequogue Fire

Chief Russell von Frank of the Nissequogue Fire Department in the department's new ambulance on Monday. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

The Village of Nissequogue Fire Department is upgrading its operations with a renovated firehouse, a new ambulance equipped with an automatic stretcher and local dispatching through Town of Smithtown Public Safety Department.

Officials will bond and dip into reserves to fund the roughly $747,000 capital items, and the village will pay an annual fee starting at $10,000 for the dispatch service. But recently retired debt on a department pumper make it unlikely residents will see any increase to their tax bills because of the upgrades, Mayor Rich Smith said.  

The department is one of the area’s smallest, with 63 members protecting about 570 homes and a small boarding school. Its budget is $237,600. But membership has nearly doubled over the past decade and firefighters and EMTs are busier than ever, responding to a village record of 221 alarms in 2017. Department leaders said at the Oct. 16 village board meeting that they were on pace to top that number this year.   

“For us, it’s a lot,” Chief Russell von Frank said in an interview. “The village has realized they need to upgrade things in order to provide proper fire protection for the community.”

Builders will add storage space and expand a meeting room and kitchen in the firehouse, a cinder block structure built in the early 1970s to accommodate the department’s 25 inaugural members. They will fix a persistent drainage problem that flooded the floors and build upstairs offices to supplement the 10-foot by 10-foot room downstairs where chiefs now do their paperwork.

The village board approved a $500,000 bond in September to fund that work; officials are scheduled to meet Oct. 23 to review contractor bids. Construction could start as early as November.

The department in October retired a 14-year-old ambulance that von Frank said was unable to climb some of the steeper driveways during winter in the hilly, wooded village. When residents of those homes needed to get to the hospital, “we would literally carry them down the driveway and lift them into the ambulance,” he said.

The replacement ambulance, from a New Jersey manufacturer, PL Custom, cost $200,000 and is equipped with a $47,000 electric stretcher loading system. The load system, which first responders and hospital officials say is becoming standard in ambulances across the region, is intended to help with heavier patients and to ease the physical strain on responders as ambulance calls account for a growing portion of alarms.

Also in October the department switched from the dispatch service offered by Suffolk County to a local system run by Smithtown Public Safety Department that also dispatches St. James and Nesconset fire departments. The county system, used by many of Suffolk’s volunteer departments, is free; the village will pay $10,000 for the first year of town service, $15,000 for the second and $20,000 for the third.

Deputy Mayor James Donahue said at a Sept. 18 board meeting that he was uneasy about increasing costs in the future. Von Frank said that a return to county service was possible if costs become prohibitive, but that the fees will fund better service.

“They’re only dispatching three departments instead of 100,” he said. “They know the landmarks, they know the businesses, they store the access codes” needed for fast entry at some homes with gated driveways.

Village of Nissequogue Fire Department upgrades: 

  • Firehouse renovation $500,000
  • Ambulance $247,000
  • Local dispatch starting at $10,000 per year 

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