INSTEAD OF RUSHING into the ambulance, turning the key and
taking off, emergency workers in Port Jefferson had to take several extra
time-consuming steps last winter.
The added routine: Unplug the ambulance from the building, where electricity
had been keeping it warm inside. Pull out the space heater. Grab cold-sensitive
medical supplies from the building and put them into the ambulance.
"That assumes that the weather is just cold, that there isn't snow or ice,"
said volunteer Michael Ryan, who estimated that response times went up by as
many as three minutes in cold weather last year.
Although Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Inc. had hoped the Town of
Brookhaven would finish building new headquarters large enough to house their
two new ambulances by this winter, volunteers fear a repeat of last season. The
new ones, which can't fit in the old building, remain outside covered by a
green canvas tent.
"Running a space heater in the back of an ambulance ... It's not something I'd
like to do for a long time," said Ken Milau, the president of the ambulance
corps, which serves about 31,000 residents.
Town officials said a string of circumstances delayed the project. The town is
experiencing delays there as well. But those departments are still able to fit
their equipment into their old buildings while they wait.
When the town sought bids for the different parts of the entire project, some
came in too high, and in other cases there was no competition, said Brookhaven
Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. So the town had to consider different designs
and advertise again and request new bids. "That sometimes takes time," she said.
On Tuesday, the town awarded contracts for plumbing, roofing and rough
carpentry. It also approved money to replace the soil and a payment for
previous plumbing work. Contracts for the interior of the building should be
Barring any weather disasters, the building should be essentially completed by
Jan. 1, Eaderesto said.
A frustrated Ryan isn't holding his breath. "We're homeless," he said.
"I'm not a betting man, but probably in two months, somebody's going to look at
someone cross-eyed" and the project will be held up again, he said.
When the ambulance service was established in 1959, it used a maintenance
garage donated by J.T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Ryan said. In 1964, members
built a two-bay garage on hospital grounds. Since 1982, volunteers have
operated out of a building on North Country Road. They began pursuing a new
building about six years ago.
The town voted to approve a $600,000 bond for the Port Jefferson project in
August, 1998. The other two ambulance company buildings will each cost $600,000
But residents say they have seen little progress since concrete was poured and
walls went up.
Material for all three ambulance construction projects has been exposed to
inclement weather for the past six months and may be deteriorating, according
to a letter written by Joseph Mineo, the town employee in charge of the
projects. The letter states that the structures have visibly warped and the
trusses have sunk several inches into the ground.
Lori Baldassare, president of the Mount Sinai Civic Association, said she is
concerned that morale is low and staffing is inadequate. "They've been promised
this building forever, and if you don't have people to respond-the two things
coupled together create a very dangerous situation for us."