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Westport, Conn., Could House Police, Fire, EMS Together

The goal is to "build a better and more up-to-date and fortified emergency operation center," which could help operations move more smoothly. Right now, the average age of the fire department’s buildings is 85 years old.

An ambulance on a street with a blurred background to show that it is driving fast.
(TNS) - The police, fire and EMS departments are looking to combine their headquarters into a joint public safety facility to enhance operations in town.

Deputy Fire Chief Nick Marsan said the goal is to "build a better and more up-to-date and fortified emergency operation center," which could help operations move more smoothly. Recently, the Board of Finance approved $110,000 for conceptual plans to get the process started.

Marsan said the project has been in the works since 2018, when the fire department went before the Board of Finance to request a study for the renovation or reconstruction of four fire stations.

The average age of the buildings is 85 years old, and the fire department and public works department have done all they can to maintain them, he said.

However, Marsan said, "the buildings are increasingly unable to meet our demands of a modern fire service."

The architectural rendering of the project showed that three of the four firehouses would be replaced. The Saugatuck station would need a renovation, mainly because its proximity to water and lack of space wouldn't make it eligible for a rebuild.

A capital forecast same time determined it would take about $70 million over 10 to 15 years to restore each of the buildings, Marsan said.

He said the buildings aren't large enough to house their equipment and apparatuses, such as respiratory machines, maintenance supplies, radios and hazmat equipment. Firefighters also need room to separate the equipment from the floor and comply with workplace safety and health regulations.

From the 1970s to today, the square footage needs have increased about 250 percent, Marsan added.

After talks with town leadership and determining it would be $70 million just for the fire improvements, town administrators looked at the two other emergency departments.

"Current public safety best practices are indicating the trend is in the creation of a joint public safety facility," Marsan said.

So, the fire department started looking into combining the forces as a solution and have turned to other municipalities for inspiration, including Greenwich and some in lower Massachusetts.

Marsan said the police department needs updated holding facilities for prisoners and space for equipment storage.

At the Board of Finance meeting, Police Chief Foti Koskinas said there have been four times in the last five years where police couldn't exit the department without going through private lots because of flooding.

All the departments are looking to add gender-inclusive restrooms and changing facilities, and make the buildings more energy efficient. Marsan said he also anticipates operating costs decreasing for the departments.

Marsan said the administration is hoping a facility like this will enhance emergency response coordination, since fire, police and EMS will all be at the same location. However, town administrators need to ensure the facility would keep response times to fires the same as it is currently.

Town administrators cannot determine where the location will be until the architectural design is created. Then, administrators can see if one facility will be enough or if other fire locations would have to remain open, he said.

There is not a clear timeline for the project. Marsan expects the concept to be done by late fall and it may be four to six years before shovels are in the ground.

"Without this conceptualized architectural plan and without knowing what our needs are, we can't have the next conversation responsibly and intelligently," he said.

Marsan said the project is fiscally responsible for the taxpayers in town, while ensuring there is not a reduction in customer service. The fire department will continue to present information to the community as steps move forward.


©2024 The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.)
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