New $1.6M EMS headquarters opens in Pa.
The new building symbolizes a new start for an organization that has reinvented itself in the wake of internal problems that included criminal charges against an EMT and former executive director.
By Karen Kane
CRANBERRY, Pa. — The days of scraping snow from an ambulance before it can be put into service or EMTs sharing desks to fill out paperwork are over in Cranberry.
A new headquarters for the township's emergency medical services group -- a building three times bigger than its former base of operations -- is fully operational.
"I can't tell you how excited we all are," said Jeff Kelly, executive director of the group.
Finishing touches to the $1.6 million facility were completed last month. The building is beside the township's fire station on Route 19. Formerly, it had been in rental space along Thomson Park Drive.
The opening of the new headquarters represents more than just an ability to accommodate existing staff and programs while preparing for the expected growth of the township. It symbolizes a new start for an organization that has reinvented itself in the wake of internal problems that included criminal charges against an ambulance driver as well as its former executive director.
"We've had our share of troubles, but that's over now," Mr. Kelly said.
The turnaround was made possible through a closer alliance between the ambulance company and the township, which paid to build the new facility and is renting it to the nonprofit emergency corps for $3,500 monthly as part of a five-year lease.
"It was in the interests of our residents to be sure we had the kind of emergency services that matched the level [of our fire department and our police department]," Cranberry manager Jerry Andree said.
He called the new EMS building "another example of our community's commitment to excellent public safety that is best achieved through collaboration and cooperation."
Bruce Mazzoni, chairman of the Cranberry supervisors, said the ambulance company now is set for "overall expansion that will keep pace with the growth of the community.
In exchange, the EMS has committed to a service agreement with the township that demands a 90-second response time for 90 percent of the emergency dispatches it receives, meaning that the ambulances are dispatched within that time parameter.
The relationship between the ambulance company and the township was strained for years. An independent organization, the EMS service was the official provider of emergency medical services to Cranberry residents -- with the fire and police departments completing the trio of emergency services -- yet, unlike the other two groups, there was little official communication.
"There was a general lack of communication and, over time, things had evolved to a situation where there was no cooperation," Mr. Mazzoni said. A "new low was hit," he said, in 2007 when an ambulance driver who was determined to have been drinking before her shift was involved in a fatal collision.
Recognizing the township's interest in the "third leg" of state-mandated emergency services, Mr. Andree said the township agreed in 2008 to pay $4,000 for an organizational review of the ambulance company. The company's board of directors reciprocated with a request that the township partner on a long-range plan for the service. Also, an annual stipend of $25,000 in free fuel was dedicated by the township to the ambulance service.
One of the key goals set in that plan was the call for a bigger headquarters and an official relationship with the township. The service agreement, the presence of the township's public safety director on the ambulance company's board of directors, the fuel stipend and the lease arrangement for the new building helped solidify the relationship, Mr. Mazzoni said.
The ambulance company suffered a public relations setback in 2011 when the former executive director pleaded guilty in connection with a sexual assault unrelated to his job.
Mr. Kelly, who has been in the job since July 2011, said he believes the chapter has been closed on the company's troubled past. "Things were shaky for a while, but we're in a good spot now," he said. Both Mr. Mazzoni and Mr. Andree agree.
"There's a great board of directors for the ambulance authority, and we have a shared mission with shared goals," Mr. Mazzoni said.
Mr. Kelly said two fledgling initiatives of the ambulance company reflect the agency's desire to be more than just a presence in the community.
The "safe landings" program allows residents to schedule an ambulance company representative to visit a home and provide CPR training to up to a dozen individuals as well as car seat and home safety inspections for $150.
Also, the "elderly wellness checks" program allows for visits to a household of up to two senior citizens ages 55 and older for a monthly subscription ranging from $145 for a single weekly visit to up to $225 for a three-times-a-week visit, during which the residents' blood pressure, vital signs, weight and prescription medication will be checked and reviewed. "We want to be an integral part of the community, truly showing our value to residents by being more than just a traditional EMS service," Mr. Kelly said.
Meantime, the usual emergency services will continue to be provided but within the parameters agreed to in the service agreement with the township. Mr. Kelly said there's no problem meeting the 90-second response time limit. He said the ambulance company had been "out the door" generally within a minute during daytime hours and within two minutes at night. Tweaking some evening practices shortened the nighttime response time.
The ambulance company is the first responder for all of Cranberry, Seven Fields and a portion of New Sewickley in Beaver County. There are mutual aid agreements, meaning that the Cranberry service provides backup when needed, with nearby municipalities including Adams, Harmony, Zelienople, Economy and Marshall.
Mr. Kelly said he and his staff -- 15 full-time employees, 20 part-timers and six volunteers -- are excited to be in a new building that has 7,200 square feet of space compared to 1,900 square feet in the old headquarters. "We had to park a squad car and an ambulance outside all the time before. Now, we have enough bays to keep all vehicles inside," he said. Also, staff has enough desk space to fill out trip sheets and complete other paperwork. "It may seem like small stuff to someone on the outside, but it's big to us," he said.
The building has space for six vehicles and has two floors, accommodating meetings, offices and sleeping quarters.
The total number of calls handled by the ambulance company was 3,400 in 2012, about 55 percent in Cranberry, and is expected to rise to about 3,800 for 2013 once final numbers are in.