EMA building opens in Back Mountain

First Posted: 10/17/2014

The Back Mountain Community Partnership dedicated Thursday its new Back Mountain Regional EMA Building, a project more than four years in the making.

The nine-acre property off Route 118, adjacent to the Luzerne County Fairgrounds, was purchased in June 2010 with the intention of building a small barn to house emergency equipment, according to Back Mountain EMS Board of Directors President Mark Van Etten.

In the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, that vision expanded. The property’s primary purpose is to provide the region with a central headquarters in case of an emergency — like a natural disaster — and a place to store the group’s emergency equipment.

But the building is also available for various public uses on a week-to-week basis, with two meeting rooms, one of which accommodates 50 to 85 people and the other about 25.

“We are making this meeting space available to community groups that may not have the financial ability to have their own meeting space, and/or not have space like that available to them,” Van Etten said. “Both rooms have flat screen TVs with audio-visual hookups for laptops or video players, and there are speakers in the ceiling.”

The building, he said, includes 6,000 square feet of office and meeting space and about 2,000 square feet of garage space. Plans are in the works for “phase two,” a future garage expansion which will bring the square footage total to just under 16,000.

Van Etten said a start date is not yet set for phase two, but preliminary blueprints were drawn.

The garage currently houses $100,000 worth of equipment funded by a state grant. The project cost, in addition to the equipment, was just over $1,250,000, funded in part by a state gambling fund grant and the remainder by the Back Mountain Regional Fire and EMS.

John Jay Wilkes Jr., a Jackson Township supervisor and the partnership chairman, said “the goal is to keep working together” to address issues regionally.

One advantage, according to Wilkes, is not the building itself, but its central location to all the municipalities represented in the partnership: Dallas, Dallas Township, Franklin Township, Jackson Township, Kingston Township and Lehman Township.

“All of our equipment that we have can be mobilized quickly,” he said. “If there’s an incident in one of the municipalities — maybe it’s not all the municipalities — we can mobilize and go to them. It’s great to have a headquarters to have all that stuff so we go to one location to get what we need and then respond to where we need to go.”

The new equipment includes portable generators, light towers, pumps, traffic devices and other items related to public safety, as well as two trailers for transportation.

Van Etten said another advantage of the property is its location on high ground, meaning there are no flooding issues. It also has plenty of space to host a Red Cross distribution team and act as a dispatch site for emergency crews.

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