RVAC members who saved the life of Riverhead teen Spencer Shea (right) speak with him inside an ambulance about the night they saved his life after a car accident. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Ambulance District will be upgrading its ambulances through a new refurbishment program that will cut to cost of deploying a new ambulance almost in half.

Al Gehres, hired last year to fill the new position of district manager, pitched the plan last week to members of the town board, who also sit as the ambulance district governing body.

The “remount” plan involves removing the “box” from the chassis and sending it back to its manufacturer for a complete refurbishment.

They will upgrade the lighting packages, replace door seals, change lighting to LED, install cooler boxes and go through the entire unit, bringing it up to original equipment manufacturing standards, Gehres told the board.

“And they provide the same lifetime warranty you get when you buy a new ambulance,” he said.

The refurbished box is then remounted on a new chassis — with a new engine.

It’s like a new ambulance, Gehres said, but costs about $125,000 altogether — while a brand new ambulance currently runs $194,000. The price of a new ambulance has been rising about 5 percent a year, Gehres said.

The existing ambulance chassis can potentially be repurposed by the town or sold, he said.

Gehres is planning to do a remount on two vehicles in the district’s fleet, both of which have outdated boxes and high mileage on their engines.

“It will take about six months to get it all completed,” he said.

“This will give us four ambulances and we’ll be good for four more years,” he said.

Board members were very pleased with the plan. The town has been working within a pay-as-go budget, Supervisor Sean Walter said, putting away funds in the various department and district reserve accounts as savings to purchase big-ticket items like capital equipment and thus avoid adding to Riverhead’s already-burdensome debt load.

Walter praised Gehres, calling the manager “the best thing that ever happened to the district.”

At Thursday’s work session, Gehres also got the board’s assent to purchase an all-terrain vehicle for rescue operations in areas inaccessible to an ambulance. The six-wheel drive John Deer “Gator” can be used on beaches or any off-road area, Gehres said. The vehicle has a maximum speed of 25 MPH.

“It would have come in handy” in the recent rescue of a man who’d been struck by a train near Mill Road, Councilman John Dunleavy noted.

Its cost, including a trailer, will run about $21,000; the vehicle is available on a state contract that’s already been put out to bid, Gehres said.

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