Southampton Village Ambulance Corps Struggles With Space Shortage

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Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said he believes that the defeat of a recent proposed school merger will stifle village development projects that should go before voters—including the needs of the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which are once again being put on hold.

Since 2009, the 50-member ambulance corps has been assessing its need for additional building space. Its members have toured many local ambulance barns and have been working on plans for a new building site.

Ambulance officials, Mr. Epley and Southampton Village Board members all agree that the need for additional space is real, and they have weighed four solutions over the last four years, with the most likely option being a new $5 million building just north of the Village Police Department headquarters on Windmill Lane.

Still, Mr. Epley recently said that despite having his support, the plans will be shelved for now—mainly because Southampton School District voters rejected a proposed merger with neighboring Tuckahoe School District, concerned about a resulting tax increase that was frequently cited by opponents. The climate in the village, he suggested, is hostile to new spending.

“At some point, I want to move forward with the ambulance barn,” Mr. Epley wrote in an email exchange. “Since the school merger vote was heavily defeated because of a very negative misinformation campaign about a significant tax increase, I am hesitant to move forward. … It is said that timing is everything, and I don’t think this is the time.”

Mr. Epley went on to say that although a new ambulance barn is a village need on par with a wastewater treatment plant and the school merger, timing and education of the public are key for these projects, and holding off is best in his mind.

“We’re the can that keeps getting kicked down the road, and it’s all based on other people’s issues, not our own,” said 1st Assistant Chief Daniel Berry, explaining that plans for a new firehouse on Hampton Road preceded their plans, and that village officials have held off pushing the ambulance barn plans, fearing “voter fatigue.”

“We were told in the spring of 2013, after years of waiting on other plans to come through the pipeline, that we would have a possible bond vote in October,” he continued. “Then summer came and things got real quiet.”

Among many complaints about the current ambulance barn are that it has inadequate storage space and inadequate space for the trucks, lacks an overnight room or even a rudimentary kitchen, lacks training space, and has limited office space.

“We have people staying here overnight, and we don’t have a kitchen whatsoever,” said Treasurer Donald Mahoney. “We don’t even have a hot plate. And take-out? Where should I eat the take-out—my lap?

“We have a really excellent response time of about four minutes, and part of that is people willing to spend time at the barn at all hours,” Mr. Mahoney continued, noting that they take about 700 calls a year and are in standby mode at about 50 events. “Minutes are precious. We need to stay here, but we need to eat, park, shower. We need to be able to walk without bumping into things. People need to understand this is a real need, not a luxury.”

And, as treasurer, Mr. Mahoney notes that the lack of storage space itself tugs on purse strings. “We can’t be cost-efficient, because we can’t buy in bulk,” he said.

In addition, the ambulance corps, with a parking lot that can fit only a handful of strategically placed cars, relies on an adjacent parking lot belonging to the First Presbyterian Church both for extra parking and for road access for its beach rescue all-terrain vehicle. On Sundays in the summer, when the vehicle gets some of its heaviest use, the ATV is stuck in its shed until after the church crowd leaves, because it cannot reach the road.

“I can say that if someone needed a beach rescue from us on a Sunday, it would be a disaster,” said Chief Rick Fowler. “That vehicle has saved some lives already. We need to be able to utilize it at a moment’s notice.”

Lastly, space constraints are making it difficult for volunteers to dispense life-saving advice. A CPR class that has now seen more than 600 pupils can accommodate only nine people at a time in the barn’s small recreation room, with others being turned away on the weekends, according to Mr. Fowler.

But for Mr. Epley, educating the public on these needs will be key for the Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps to get its new building.

“Voters want to support projects that are well vetted, where they know and understand all costs associated with the project,” Mr. Epley said, emphasizing that the village residents need more time to familiarize themselves with the needs of the ambulance corps. “I think [the merger vote] makes us step back and think about spending. It challenges us to make sure that we can answer all questions and that we have explored every option available before moving forward.”

“We want the exact opposite of what happened with the school merger—we want to educate the people about the fact of the matter, that we have too little space,” said Mr. Berry, noting the open houses that the corps has held the past three summers. “Come on down and check out our place, and you’ll want to help us fix our space issue.”

In fact, all three ambulance corps officials agree with the mayor that more education is necessary—they just feel they’ve done enough waiting.

“We keep waiting, but we’re ready to move on,” Mr. Fowler said. “There will always be other projects. We’ve outgrown these walls. It’s our 20th anniversary, we just won EMS of the year—what better time? Unlike the school merger situation, no one is really opposed to our plans, no one disagrees. We’ve just been asked to wait, and we’ve been patient.”

“If nothing official is on the docket, nothing is ever real to people,” added Mr. Mahoney. “People need to understand this a real need, not a luxury. We are efficient and never frivolous. We’re building a facility that meets needs—we’re not building the Taj Mahal. The village has always been good to us, but we’ve been very good back to the village as well, and we are telling them we need a new facility.”

“This is incredibly frustrating, it is incredibly time-consuming, and yet there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it seems,” Mr. Fowler said. “We have no sense of where we are going.”

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