The Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service building is located at 448 Sport Hill Rd, Easton, Conn.—Tomas Koeck Photo

Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service officials have been trying for years to move out of the outdated, 92-year-old building they call home and find a new one. Built in 1925 and originally a firehouse, the building has housed the EMS since 1988.

Despite years of successful fundraising and a growing need, the project never gained momentum and never reached the ear of anybody until First Selectman Dr. David Bindelglass became involved and got things going, according to EMS Chief Jonathan Arnold.

“Dr. Bindelglass’s interest in healthcare and funding recommendations really gave us a lot of traction,” Arnold said. “He introduced the American Rescue Plan money, which was a huge shot in the arm. Our donations aren’t anything near the ARP funds we’re going to use.”

Time is of the essence because the ARP funds must be used by 2024, Arnold said. Under Bindelglass’s leadership, EMS officials met with other town departments and started working with an architectural firm. They are doing a needs assessment to design for now and the future. He expects the architect to provide preliminary drawings next week. 

Easton Volunteer EMS ambulance. — Jane Paley Photo

He said they are looking at a 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot building. The current building is 6,000 square feet but it was an old firehouse, and the way it was broken up makes for a lot of wasted space. They will need to put in an appropriate amount of bedrooms — ideally six to eight — , adequate office space, four to six garage bays and training space to accommodate 30 to 40 people. The bedrooms are needed for the college live-in program and for the volunteers, particularly during hurricanes and blizzards when they may stay at the facility for three to six days in a row. 

“We’re looking to stay within a mile or so of our existing building,” Arnold said. The current site is centrally located, near the Easton Volunteer Fire Company and conducive to traveling to the north and south side of town via Route 59 and Center Road. Both services operate 24/7 and use sirens in responding to emergencies.

Carolyn Kearney, Easton EMS Assistant Chief — Tomas Koeck Photo

The EMS would like to be in a situation similar to the fire company, which owns the building it occupies, and controls its own destiny, Arnold said. “We’re trying not to burden the taxpayer,” he said. They are looking into various options, such as using the donated funds to enable the EMS Association to buy the property and use the ARP money to construct the building. It’s also possible the town might have to buy the property and build the building, Arnold said.

If the town makes the purchase, it will follow the proper procedure and go to a Town Meeting and referendum as required. If the negotiation price is right, the association may buy the property with donated funds. They want it to be visible to the community so residents can find the building easily and stop by easily, rather than being out of sight and of mind, Arnold said.

Victor Malindretos, president of the EMS Board of Trustees. — Tomas Koeck Photo

“If we use public funds we will get a building committee going,” Arnold said. The EMS association has its own internal building committee for donated funds. Arnold and other EMS officials have been looking at other emergency medical services and fire departments in the region to see what they look like and learn about what works well and what does not. They have travelled to Newtown, Trumbull and Weston to look at their facilities.

“We’ve looked at a lot of different building and talked to building committees,” he said. “We have picked their brains so our money will be well spent. When we design our facility and put shovel to ground we want to do it right. The ARP money expires in 2024, which is a very tight timeline. We’re burning the midnight oil and have poured on overtime to get a piece of land to do this. We’re hoping to come up with a piece of land in the next four to six weeks and determine who’s paying for it.”

Christina DiPalma — Tomas Koeck Photo

Over the last five or six months they narrowed down the list to three or four properties and are negotiating with their attorney, Bob Nicola, present to determine if there is enough acreage and whether there are any stipulations regarding its use.

Easton EMS is a private association, and Arnold likened the purchase of the property to a private individual buying another private individual’s house and making arrangements to buy they house . They don’t want to interfere with the negotiations by putting everything out there. “We want to pay fair market value for the property and get it for what it’s worth,” Arnold said. 

You can read more about the current building and its deteriorating conditions here: Building Issues Mount as EMS Searches for a New Home.

Due to its age, the EMS building no longer holds paint well. . —Tomas Koeck Photo

Building Issues and Resolutions

Chief Jon Arnold with one of the outdated pipes found in the basement. —Tomas Koeck Photo
  • Drains in garage constantly back up. The plumber verified the pipes collapsed looking to increase garage size to accommodate six vehicles. Currently we have four vehicles and two trailers.
  • Building generator is not reliable. There is anti-freeze mixing in the oil. A replacement is in progress.
  • Windows are close to 20 years old and llose heat in the winter. Some repairs have been made
  • Parking lot is in disrepair, gravel is loose, many potholes, pavement is buckling next to building. On the property they are limited to six cars. Water puddles and freezes on side of building
Chief Jon Arnold in repurposed space used to store essential equipment for the EMS team’s daily activities. —Tomas Koeck Photo
  • Window/AC units (bird nests in AC sleeves upstairs), window units must be installed annually in upstairs office and downstairs office. Units are not able to handle the heat load upstairs and struggle on the hottest days to keep our training room cool enough to have class. 
  • Roof approaching 25 years old, ridge line sagging, drains are pulling away from building.
  • Paint peeling off building, shingles are missing.
  • Extremely short front apron (makes going into garage dangerous) unable to pull the vehicles out to wash them outside.
A wall in the furnace room still contains asbestos. —Tomas Koeck Photo
  • Training room floor sags. They run between five and seven EMT classes a year and CPR classes on a weekly basis. Need a training room to support that.
  • Fire escape is pulling away from building. Anchor point is rotten. Emergency repairs made.
  • Limited office space with five shared desks for 10 plus admin people.
  • Live-in/overnight accommodations are for three people. One large room with two partial separator walls. Limited privacy. Looking for six to eight bedrooms with privacy.
  • One shower on first floor in bathroom adjacent to community kitchen. Would like male and female showering rooms.
  • Water well is owned by FD, not on property and the well pump fails once or twice a year. Need a reliable, safe and clean water source.
  • Septic system is approximately 50 years old. Unable to locate reliable records may be older.
  • Stone wall foundation in basement. Rainwater seeps through causing constant flooding. Can not be used as living space or storage, mold in basement.
  • Upstairs bathrooms constantly clog. (also, not adequate for training classes of between 20 and 40 students) 
  • No elevator access to second floor. Not handicapped accessible.

‘All About Community’

EMS volunteers get out into the community constantly and hold community-minded events like the charity motorcycle ride and fireworks. They participated in the Fireman’s Carnival, recent 9/11 Memorial and people can meet them personally and see the building when they drop off recyclables for the ongoing bottle and can drive. The service conducts blood pressure screenings at the Easton Senior Center and stays in touch with the community through social media. They inform the public about operations and the condition of the facility. Their active volunteer base reduces taxes.

They go to people’s houses who they are sick or injured, including during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They answer calls during hurricanes, blizzards, accidents and other crises. Easton EMS is lucky enough to save the town money through its volunteers, many of whom are teenagers and young adults who receive valuable training they can use in their careers and lives, in addition to serving their community, according to Arnold.

“It’s all about community,” Arnold said. “We get out there and meet the public as much as possible. We want to do right by everybody.”

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By Nancy Doniger

Nancy Doniger worked as a journalist for three decades and was a founding editor of the nonprofit Easton Courier in partnership with the School of Communications, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University (SHU). She served two years as executive member and is now a contributing editing of the Easton Courier. She was a former managing editor of Hometown Publications and Hersam Acorn Newspapers covering Connecticut's Fairfield and New Haven counties. She was a correspondent for the Connecticut section of The New York Times from 1995 until the section was discontinued in 2006. Over the years she edited The Easton Courier, The Monroe Courier, The Bridgeport News and other community newspapers. She taught news editing as an adjunct professor at SHU and served as coordinator and member of the Community Assets Network for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools. She was a member of the Newtown Community Center Commission, member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), board member of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), and past president and board member of the Barnard Club of Connecticut. She has won awards for her writing from SPJ and NENPA.