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Tight fit bars Penn. EMS from new digs

FOX CHAPEL, Penn. Ground was broken for a new emergency medical services headquarters in Fox Chapel on Memorial Day 2006, and by October, the building containing offices, living quarters and garage appeared ready for its grand opening.

Eight months later, however, the 4,000-square-foot facility on Squaw Run Road next to McCahill Field remains vacant, apparently because the ambulances can barely fit through any of the three bay doors.

Foxwall EMS continues to work out of its center next to the borough building on Fox Chapel Road, in space that has been earmarked for a new library.

The three bay entrances are about 10 feet wide, and modular van ambulances, similar to those Foxwall operates, are 91/2 feet wide, mirror-to-mirror.

“We would have very much liked to have been in there in November,” said Rick Duffy, Foxwall executive director. “Unfortunately, the building cannot be used at this juncture until things are done that can make it functional for the EMS service.”

William Gordon, Fox Chapel manager and engineer, acknowledged yesterday that the doors should have been wider.

“While the EMS ambulances can get through the doors, it would be pretty darn close, so it was decided to increase the size of the openings to make it less tight,” he said.

“I think it’s really just one of those things [that] just slipped through the cracks and the whole process,” he said. “I suspect there is probably enough blame to go around for everyone on the matter, so that it wouldn’t be fair to pick any particular entity to say this person or that person is at fault.”

He said council agreed about a month ago to remedy the problem by replacing two of the three single-width doors with one double-sized one. By eliminating the center column between the two single-width doors, additional space will be created so that the ambulances can fit.

Mr. Gordon said the repairs are expected to cost about $13,000 and will not weaken the structural integrity of the facility. The work is expected to start in July, he said, and the building should be ready for Foxwall occupancy in August.

Plans for the new Foxwall base began about three years ago. The borough expressed interest in acquiring the rights to the present Foxwall building, which is on borough-owned land, to make way for a $4 million, 24,000-square-foot library.

In return, Fox Chapel would reimburse Foxwall for a majority of the construction costs for a new EMS base on Squaw Run at Hunt roads on land donated to the borough by the Trossati family.

Original designs had called for the facility to incorporate parts of the existing Trossati home, but those bids came in higher than anticipated. The borough budget for the current project is about $465,000, council records show.

The new design called for the existing home to be razed and for the EMS center to be built from the ground up, Mr. Duffy said.

Foxwall has agreed to pay for several additional features, such as the third garage bay, which borough council chose not to include in the project budget. Foxwall expects to launch a fund-raising campaign after its new home is up and running, Mr. Duffy said.

Fox Chapel council meeting minutes since January 2006 do not mention the Foxwall garage-door matter, but they do reference cost overruns, a change in the garage door color and contractual concerns involving a change in architects.

Most of those matters, however, seemed to have been resolved by April of this year, at which time $21,500 in landscaping had been awarded.

Founded in 1978, Foxwall EMS has about 40 emergency responders and serves Aspinwall, Blawnox and Fox Chapel. It receives no municipal funds for its operations and is one of the few remaining all-volunteer EMS services in Allegheny County, Mr. Duffy said.

It has seen consistent growth and now responds to about 900 calls each year, he added.

The new site, located less than one mile from the current base, is centrally located and will allow for continued rapid emergency response, said Mr. Duffy, one of Foxwall’s founding members.

The new EMS facility will offer twice as much space for office work as well as separate bedrooms for crew members who choose to bunk there.