Lit­tle Rock am­bu­lance ser­vice wraps up move

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - SCOTT CAR­ROLL

Arkansas’ largest am­bu­lance ser­vice said Thurs­day that it was in the fi­nal stages of trans­fer­ring oper­a­tions to a new head­quar­ters in down­town Lit­tle Rock.

Metropoli­tan Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices of Lit­tle Rock is mov­ing into a 38,000-square-foot build­ing at 1121 W. Sev­enth St., just north of its for­mer head­quar­ters at 1101 W. Eighth St. MEMS Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Jon Swan­son said the agency had out­grown its for­mer head­quar­ters, a 7,928-square-feet struc­ture built in 1985.

Some MEMS per­son­nel had been work­ing out of por­ta­ble of­fices at the old head­quar­ters. The agency had also been forced to rent property else­where in the city for stor­age and train­ing.

Swan­son said the new head­quar­ters, a two- story struc­ture built at a cost of $12 mil­lion, will cen­tral­ize MEMS oper­a­tions in Lit­tle Rock. The am­bu­lance ser­vice aims to have all oper­a­tions trans­ferred to the build­ing by Jan. 20.

“This will make it a much more ef­fi­cient process that will po­ten­tially al­low [am­bu­lances] to be in ser­vice longer,” he said.

The agency, which han­dles about 240 calls per day, will route calls through its dis­patch cen­ter in Con­way on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day as it moves into its new head­quar­ters.

MEMS, a non­profit agency, em­ploys about 250 uni­formed per­son­nel who serve about 530,000 res­i­dents in Pu­laski, Faulkner, Lonoke and Grant coun­ties. Its an­nual op­er­at­ing bud­get is $23.5 mil­lion. The am­bu­lance ser­vice paid for its new head­quar­ters with re­serve funds, ac­cord­ing to Swan­son.

The cost in­cludes the de­mo­li­tion of the old head­quar­ters, which will be torn down and the property turned into an em­ployee park­ing lot by spring.

Con­struc­tion of the new head­quar­ters, lo­cated at the for­mer site of Massery Laun­dry and the Lit­tle Rock Bot­tling Co., be­gan in May 2015. The struc­ture is built to dou­ble as a tor­nado shel­ter. The west­ern half of the build­ing is con­structed of 10.5-inchthick con­crete re­in­forced with steel. It is de­signed to with­stand winds of up to 250 mph, as well as seis­mic ac­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to the agency.

There’s space for about 150 peo­ple in the tor­nado shel­ter. Swan­son said the am­bu­lance ser­vice’s dis­patch cen­ter, com­puter servers, power gen­er­a­tor and other crit­i­cal equip­ment will be placed on the re­in­forced side of the build­ing so that oper­a­tions can con­tinue af­ter a nat­u­ral disas­ter or other cat­a­strophic event.

Lit­tle Rock Mayor Mark Stodola was among sev­eral peo­ple who spoke at a ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony for the new head­quar­ters Thurs­day morn­ing. He said the build­ing’s safety fea­tures will help med­i­cal per­son­nel save lives un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

“It al­lows our emer­gency ser­vice per­son­nel to work while the disas­ter is oc­cur­ring,” Stodola said. “That’s so very, very im­por­tant. Just the tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity, the equip­ment that goes into the scale of the op­er­a­tion — it’s so very im­por­tant.”

The new head­quar­ters will also have wash bays and fu­el­ing sta­tions. Am­bu­lances were pre­vi­ously cleaned and re­fu­eled off-site, which of­ten took the ve­hi­cles out of ser­vice longer, Swan­son said.

Scott Gor­don, chair­man of the Lit­tle Rock Am­bu­lance Au­thor­ity, noted dur­ing the cer­e­mony Thurs­day that class­rooms make up a large part of the new build­ing. All em­ploy­ees, from new hires to vet­eran medics, will be able to train un­der the same roof for the first time in more than a year.

MEMS had pre­vi­ously been rent­ing the se­cond floor of a print­ing and imag­ing com­pany on Ninth Street to train cer­tain per­son­nel.

“[There is a] lot of space for train­ing [at the new head­quar­ters], be­cause train­ing is an on­go­ing mis­sion at MEMS,” Gor­don said.

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