Leaders of the Amagansett Fire Department have to find a new place for the Suffolk County police helicopter to land in emergencies when patients need to be airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.
The medevac has been landing in a field behind the firehouse, between Main Street and the Long Island Rail Road tracks, but the chief said he was recently informed that pilots had raised concerns about the safety of the landing zone.
Suffolk County Police Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon confirmed by email on Tuesday that the department reassessed the area and found it was “less than suitable” due to the placement of a cellphone and radio communications tower and wind turbine in the field, high tension wires to the north, and tall tress that surround most of the field. “These obstructions diminish safety margins should we have issues on takeoff or landing,” he said. “When it comes to aviation, the Suffolk County Police Department’s primary concern is safety for all — our pilots, the passengers, and people on the ground.”
Amagansett Chief Dwayne Denton said that while the 120-foot wind turbine was erected only three years ago, the 160-foot tower has been there for six to eight years. Daniel R. Shields, the chairman of the Amagansett Board of Fire Commissioners, said the board checked with the Aviation Department before the wind turbine was built to ensure the helicopter could still land on the three-acre lot. The minimum size required for landing is 100 by 100 feet, Chief Fallon said.
Even though the medevac helicopter has landed there countless times since the wind turbine was erected, the Aviation Department periodically reassesses landing zones and considers if there are safer ones nearby.
Chief Fallon said there is a more suitable site approximately a quarter mile east of the firehouse, the large property once owned by the Principi family and recently purchased by East Hampton Town.
At an East Hampton Town Board work session on Tuesday, Councilman Fred Overton said Chief Denton asked him if the new town property, to the east, could be used for landing the medevac, even if only temporarily.
Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he would speak to the town attorney to ensure that it could be used legally for the landing of emergency helicopters, since it was purchased with community preservation money. “The board will generally agree to do it on a temporary basis as long as we could legally do it,” Mr. Cantwell said.
There is no other open, public area in Amagansett for the helicopter to land. The next closest would be East Hampton High School, though the East Hampton Airport is more often used.
Meanwhile, Mr. Shields suggested that another solution might be to remove the trees between the area directly behind the firehouse and the two-acre property to the west, home to the former Pacific East restaurant, which the fire district purchased in 2011. “I’ll talk it over with the board,” he said yesterday.
The decision about where to land a helicopter is worked out between the pilot and the emergency medical workers treating patients, and involves factors including the original location of the patient and the estimated time of arrival of the helicopter. The county protocol is never to delay transport to a hospital. For instance, when two men fell off scaffolding in Montauk last week, both were airlifted to Stony Brook, but only one helicopter was nearby. The second patient was driven by ambulance to the East Hampton Airport to meet the second medevac, which was coming from farther away.
Each fire district has places commonly used as landing zones. The Bridgehampton Fire Department often uses the ball field next to the firehouse, while the Sag Harbor ambulance asks the chopper to land in the grassy area at Havens Beach in the village or Long Beach in Noyac.
With Reporting By Joanne Pilgrim