Huntingburg ambulance site set for upgrades

Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Paramedics working for the Huntingburg ambulance service may soon enjoy improved conditions in the former gas garage on North Van Buren Street.

County ambulance service coordinator Suzan Henke attended the Huntingburg Common Council/Utility Board meeting Tuesday to discuss possible renovations to the building that houses two county-owned emergency vehicles and provides services to the southwest portion of the county through Memorial Hospital. The gas garage originally was intended as a temporary site after St. Joseph’s Hospital in Huntingburg closed in 2007 and the vehicles were left without a home.

“The building is not very efficient at all,” Energy Superintendent John Reutepohler told the board. “We need to start the process of moving forward with this. It’s been a long time coming. I think its an asset we don’t want to see leave town.”

The board and Mayor Denny Spinner unanimously agreed that to keep the service in the city, some repairs need to be made. The service makes roughly 1,200 runs each year. Council member Glen Kissling said he would prefer to see the ambulances moved to a site south of the railroad tracks because emergency vehicles from Jasper can respond easily to incidents on the north side of the city — but when trains are running, it is more difficult for them to cross to the south end.

“Suzan and I have been working toward the goal of this for a number of years. It’s not my optimal location I would like to see, but it’s acceptable,” Kissling said of the gas building. “Facilitywise, it’s the best I think the city has to offer.”

Kissling added that the ambulance service is also important for saving taxpayer money, because if the emergency vehicles can respond to local incidents, the fire department trucks do not have to make as many runs.

Spinner reminded the board that even if the ambulance service leaves in the future, the city could use the updated building for other purposes.

Until the completion of the water department’s new storage facility near the water plant, paramedics shared the building with the gas department. When the water department removed some of its equipment from the city utility office for storage in the new building, the gas department began moving its supplies into the office. The county commissioners have agreed to begin making utility payments at the building once the ambulance service has it completely to itself.

The ambulance bay is staffed 24/7 by paramedics and emergency medical technicians who share one living space. Two medical staff members work at one time. Henke told the board that she hopes the renovations will give them a separate sleeping area and kitchenette in what they consider their “second home.”

She also is hopeful that engineers will be able to raise the height of the bay doors, which currently offer only 6 inches of clearance for the vehicles. For better antennas to be installed on the ambulances, the doors would need to be at least another 6 inches higher. Henke said the number of times the vehicles have been damaged when drivers have attempted to pull in through the doors is “too many to count.”

Reutepohler suggested that the building be gutted to make room for insulation. The roof would need to be checked and new heating and air-conditioning systems would need to be installed.

The board granted Reutepohler permission to seek advice from engineers about the estimated cost of the renovations. The board also asked that the engineers advise whether it would be a better idea to simply construct a new building instead of updating. If the gas building is repaired, the ambulances will have to be moved into a temporary storage site.

“We want to stay here,” Henke said. “We’re grateful to the city for providing us a place to stay, but we very much welcome any improvements that we can make to that building to keep us there.”

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