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Nine years ago, then-newly appointed Fire Chief Charles Steinhart V walked into the North Stonington Ambulance Association and volunteered his time, an effort to break down barriers and create unity between the two organizations.

Although the path to get there has been long and at times trying, Steinhart’s vision of unified emergency services operation will become a reality on June 12 when he and North Stonington Ambulance Association President Ryan Burdick lead their respective services into the new North Stonington Center for Emergency Services.

“To go from ten years ago, when it was a no-no to work across departments to this, we’ve come a long way,” said Steinhart during a walk-through of the new facility this week. “Now, when you look at something like this, we are one team. It doesn’t matter the name on the door of the vehicle, we are all working together for the same goal.”

The $6.36 million, 13,350-square-foot facility, located at 25 Rocky Hollow Road, right across from the old fire station, boasts numerous opportunities for the agency and will provide tools not previously available to first responders, said both Steinhart and Burdick. Both were members of the town’s Center for Emergency Services Building Committee, with Burdick serving as chairman.

With an eight-bay garage, full-service kitchen, residential wing, state-of-the-art multipurpose decontamination room, full radio and data center, multiple offices and a training room that doubles as the Emergency Operations Center, both agencies anticipate enhanced communications between the organizations and, in such, better services for the community as a whole.

The center, built by Enterprise Builders, of Newington, Conn., will house the fire department’s 38 volunteers, who are currently operating from an outdated building that was erected from scratch — including funding — by members of the department in 1947. It will also be home to 20 paid members and 12 volunteers with North Stonington Ambulance, Burdick said.

First Selectman Michael Urgo said he is looking forward to showcasing the new facility and believes that once residents get a chance to see what their money is going towards, it’ll bolster the sense of pride in the community and emergency service agencies.

“From a town perspective, we have a responsibility to give our first responders the tools and equipment needed to do the job. This project does just that,” Urgo said.

Urgo noted that the timing was just right too. The town was able to utilize the Community Facilities Direct Loan Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, securing a 2.75 percent interest rate to help reduce long-term costs, and a reduction in town debt in recent years further enhanced the town’s ability to absorb the costs.

For a moment, however, it seemed that the original plans for a united center might not come to fruition.

The concept of the center was conceived in 2008, but an initial proposal for a 24,000-square-foot building in 2013 was scaled back when initial bids in 2015 came in much higher than expected. On the heels of the unexpected costs, voters in August 2015 also rejected a $2.24 million referendum to cover the costs.

Burdick and Steinhart said this week that they are beyond pleased with where the project ended up, however, and believe the new center will not only boost morale for existing volunteers, but could serve to attract new members to both organizations.

Furthermore, both said the new center affords them room to grow, including providing a space for the North Stonington Ambulance Association to purchase a new ambulance to replace a 1998 apparatus that remains in operation. The average ambulance lasts 10 to 12 years, Burdick explained. The organization has not been able to replace it partly because it didn’t have a proper facility in which to store a modern ambulance, which is larger than older models, he said.

Town residents, and those in surrounding communities, can see the facility during a formal grand opening on June 23 at 10 a.m. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include tours and a formal ribbon-cutting, as well as the unveiling of a joint monument in the front of the center. 

“This facility will take us from now into the future comfortably,” Steinhart said.

Article credit to Jason Vallee at the Westerly Sun. (Original article date 6/3/2018)