Christopher Raguso of Commack was a lot like the new emergency response vehicle Suffolk police dedicated in his name — tough and ready to serve people in need, family and friends said Tuesday.
The 10-wheel-drive truck the Suffolk County Police Department obtained through the U.S. military surplus equipment program will be used as a rescue vehicle during snowstorms, hurricanes and other emergencies, Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said during a dedication ceremony at Unique Worldwide Autosports in Deer Park.
Raguso’s widow said her husband — an FDNY lieutenant, Commack Fire Department volunteer and master sergeant in the New York Air National Guard who died in Iraq last year — would be honored that dozens of people donated their time and talents to prepare the truck for civilian purposes.
“Chris was born to serve and he loved helping people,” Carmela Raguso said after the ceremony. “Knowing that so many people volunteered out of the goodness of their hearts, that was Chris to a T. That is the personification of Chris.”
Members of the FDNY, Commack Fire Department and 106th Rescue Wing — Raguso’s Westhampton Beach-based National Guard unit — attended the ceremony. Family members, including his mother, Laura, his father, John, and daughters Mila, 8, and Eva, 6, were also there.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called Raguso “an American hero” and said it was an honor to put his name on the emergency rescue vehicle.
“There was never a time in Chris Raguso’s life when he didn’t answer the call to service,” Bellone said.
The U.S. Army truck, previously assigned to Fort Dix in New Jersey, will be used to assist motorists whose vehicles are stranded in deep snow or stuck in deep water, Cameron said.
Cameron said the SCPD needs the massive truck because existing equipment was inadequate to assist people stranded by superstorm Sandy in 2012 and a February 2013 snowstorm that left hundreds stranded on Suffolk roads. The truck, designed to recover tanks and other heavy military gear, comes with a winch that can be used to pull cars out of snowbanks or floodwaters.
/“We are often challenged to get commercial tow trucks to come out and help us move things,” Cameron said. “If we get a truck or a tractor trailer stuck on the (Long Island) Expressway or Sunrise Highway, if we can’t promptly remove it, there is a cascade of failures where the plows can’t get through, the roads get closed and nobody can get through, including first responders.”
The department obtained the truck for free several years ago through the federal 1033 program, which requires the military to make surplus equipment available to law-enforcement agencies. Cameron said he is sensitive to criticism of the program — detractors say it has militarized local police — and believed it was important to rebrand the camouflage-covered vehicle with Suffolk police blue and white, so it looked like the rest of the vehicles in the department’s fleet.
The cab was stripped down and then repainted by Will Castro, the owner of Unique Worldwide Autosports in Deer Park — a project that took more than a year. Castro and his team were assisted by students from SkillsUSA chapter at Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Queens, a club that promotes community service while teaching teens workplace skills.
The students said they had worked on smaller vehicles but had no experience with a monster rescue truck. “It taught us we needed a game plan and it helped us develop team work,” said senior Justin Tanco, 17, of Jamaica, Queens. “Take your time and it will work out right.”
In May, Suffolk police dedicated a military surplus Hummer in honor of Patchogue’s Lt. Michael J. Murphy, a Navy SEAL from Patchogue, a Medal of Honor winner who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005.
Raguso was serving in the Air National Guard when his helicopter crashed in Iraq in March 2018, killing all on board.
“Chris was proud to be an American,” his father John Raguso said, “and proud to serve his country.”