After years of neglect, Groton Ambulance building loaded with problems
Groton — The emergency medical technicians who work in the town-owned building leased to the Groton Ambulance Association Inc. have known for years that something was wrong.
During a rainstorm five years ago, water leaked from the roof into the drywall ceiling and a section fell onto an employee sleeping in a bunk room overnight, association President Taylor Salva said. About a year ago, the drywall in a bathroom failed and the wall fell apart, exposing black mold, he said.
Last month, a surveillance camera at the building captured a large black snake slithering out of a wall.
There's confusion over who's responsible for maintaining the ambulance building at 217 Newtown Road. The town originally leased it to the association in 1980 for $1 per year and specified the organization was responsible for maintenance. But over time, the town took over much of the work and the lease lapsed.
The last lease expired in 1994 — 23 years ago, Town Manager John Burt said.
The building has garage bays for four ambulances and living quarters for employees on duty, and it has a system meant to pull exhaust from the garage and vent it to the outside. That system has not worked for at least 10 years.
Inside the boiler room a generator, used to maintain power in the event of a power outage, works but leaks exhaust, Salva said.
Town Councilor Rich Moravsik toured the building about two months ago with Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department Chief Joseph Winski and Town Manager Burt, who was hired in July. At the time of the visit, a blue tarp lay over part of the roof due to leaks, Moravsik said.
It never should have gotten that bad, especially when the building houses emergency staff that town residents depend on, he said. "We went into the building and it's musty in there. It's like a basement and the people have to sleep in that," Moravsik said.
Groton Ambulance provides ambulance services to about two-thirds of Groton, including the City of Groton and much of Groton Town. The association employs 32 full-time, part-time and per-diem staff, Salva said.
Work crews this week finished a $26,900 project to replace roof shingles and sections of siding. But it may be a temporary fix. Crews removing old shingles found “some not good plywood and some really bad plywood underneath,” Salva said. “The town only wanted to replace the really bad stuff but with all new shingles. They want to pretty much level the building in the next two to three years, so that should get us to then.”
The association just received a $76,000 grant through a Federal Emergency Management Agency program to buy chest compression machines and install a new exhaust-removal system. Work should begin on the system shortly.
Burt said the building is near the top of his list for future work because of its condition and size. “Besides being in poor condition, it’s a relatively small building and it wasn’t meant for the amount of equipment that ambulances have these days,” he said. It could be expanded or replaced, he said.
Salva expects to need more space and staff in the future as the area grows. The organization already is short on room for recordkeeping, equipment storage and billing, he said. Staff hold meetings in the garage bays.
Groton Ambulance also still is dealing with other issues as an organization. In 2015, the association came under scrutiny for failing to staff ambulances, and the attorney general's office opened an inquiry into its use of charitable funds.
The inquiry began after federal tax filings showed the nonprofit association paid its office manager $134,276 and allowed her and the former vice president of the board of directors to borrow money without written agreements. The office manager is no longer with the organization.
The inquiry is ongoing, Samuel Carmody, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, said Friday. Former Association President Steve Christina took over after the inquiry began, fixed staffing issues and restored reliability and stability to the organization. He also contacted Moravsik about the building.
Association President Salva took over after Christina this summer, and also has been working on making improvements. He is not sure how much prior leaders spoke to town leaders about building issues.
But conditions were “pretty brutal” and continued for several years, he said. The organization had buckets in closets to catch the rain. After the ceiling section collapsed in the bunk room, the association repaired the hole, and the town did a spot repair on the roof, but it continued to leak, he said.
Air quality continues to be an issue, he said. “We know that there’s definitely an issue because we have people that sleep there because they wake up coughing and wheezing and we have A/C units that have to be cleaned” of mold, he said.
The building was last inspected by the fire marshal on Sept. 18, 2014, and one violation was found, according to fire inspection records. The inspection noted the need to “repair the emergency lights in the boiler room and in the bay and make the bay exit light a combination exit and emergency light."
Most of the building issues appear to be health-related rather than fire-safety related, Winski said. Additional inspection records were unavailable Friday.
Winski said he doesn't know who was responsible for what, he doesn't want to point fingers and it's immaterial in some ways. Regardless of how the issues came to be, they should be abated, he said.
Moravsik said the town is responsible for the building.
"Somebody didn't do their job," he said. "They let the thing go, they closed their eyes to it and didn't pay attention to it because nobody complained."
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