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Expanded fire station officially opens in Meredith

Helping to uncouple the firehose for the Meredith Fire Station's Grand Opening, retired firemen John Sherman, Wendell Whitcher, Chuck Palm, and Donald Smith celebrate the day. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
June 03, 2009
MEREDITH — With the uncoupling of one last fire hose, the newly renovated and expanded Meredith Fire Station was officially opened after years of planning, committees, and construction.

Outside the no-emergency entrance of the station, firefighters, retired and current, members of the firefighter's auxiliary, members of the Capital Improvements Plan and Fire Station Building Committees, selectmen, and many other local dignitaries came to witness the grand opening.

"The last one lasted us 50 years," said former Meredith Fire Chief Chuck Palm. "Our hope is that the next will last us another 50 years."

In a series of speeches before the hose uncoupling, those who had overseen the project spoke of the effort and volunteer hours that had been spent in getting the station to its new form. Palm gave a brief history of the events that had led to that day, starting years ago as the town considered what its future needs would be.

Though a renovation and expansion of the downtown station would be needed, Palm said, in the past, several things "could occur to push the project forward or back." Those things, like the potential widening of Route 3, or whether the town would be unable to support a call or volunteer fire department, have not yet happened, Palm said.

About five years ago, he remembered, an informal committee in the department formed to look at their "needs, not wishes." Soon afterward, the selectmen established a Fire Station Building Committee to guide the process.

In March of 2008, voters at Town Meeting approved $2.25 million for the renovations and expansion. Today, Palm said, the department is able to return $40,000 from the contingency fund that went unused.

"This facility and the process (to build it) is a testimony to the residents of Meredith," said Selectmen Bob Flanders, representing the disbanded Fire Station Building Committee. "There were many people willing to step forward and donate their time to give us thing like this at a very affordable cost. Meredith is in a good place now, with its infrastructure."

The process wasn't always easy, especially during the building phase. Palm and Meredith Fire Chief Ken Jones noted that they had to keep the station running, even as it was being worked upon. When the horn went off, Palm laughed, construction workers had to "get out of the way," and no one could work on the roof of the building when the horn was scheduled to blow at noon.

"This (the expansion) will allow us to complete our jobs with greater efficiency and add to our response capabilities," said Jones. "I thank you for this opportunity to guide the department into the future and grow as a chief."

With the help of those who had supported the fire station expansion and renovation, and retired Meredith firefighters Barney Homer, John Sherman, and former Chief Wendell Whitcher, Palm and Jones uncoupled the firehose to applause. The crowd then lined up to walk into the station for guided tours and a reception.

"It's a blend of old and new inside," said Palm.

The old and the new is visible in the foyer of the station. As visitors walked in, the first thing they saw was the Wamesit hand pumper sold to Meredith in 1859. Along the walls are pictures and roll calls of the Wamesit Engine Company and the Meredith Fire Station through the years, including the original design sketch for the old fire station. To the side are the new administrative offices.

Firefighter Donald Smith then led a group into another room, where the first motor-driven apparatus for the Meredith Fire Department is kept. Smith noted that Palm had helped with its restoration and preservation. The walls are lined with the old helmets and lanterns of the station's firefighters, trophies from past musters, and posters from a fireman's ball.

In the old apparatus bay, "where we held the turkey raffles," Smith remembered, the department now holds their snow machines, amphibious vehicle, a rescue vehicle and the chief's vehicle. A new elevator can take visitors down to the new garage, but most opted to take the stairs, going through a long hall full of firefighters' lockers.

In the new apparatus bay, the engines were kept at the ready. Though it won't arrive till late summer, the spot for the station's new 110-foot aerial truck was marked with a toy replica. The station also houses two interns this summer as part of a fire sciences program with the Lakes Region Community College. Both the interns and the station's Explorers were on hand to help give tours.

"I intend to be a full-time firefighter when I grow up," said Explorer Paul Rossi, 18, who has been with the station since 2006, and saw its transformation. "It (the station) has come a long ways."

Visitors ended their tour in the station's meeting room/dayroom/kitchen with a reception. The room is where firefighters can meet and fix a quick meal. A large bay window from the room looks out over the new apparatus bay.

"This is a celebration of the firemen and firewomen who protect and keep us as safe as possible," said Selectman Chair Peter Brothers. "It's difficult for me not to mention that this is another fine example of what can happen when people get together and pull a rope in the same direction."

Brothers referred to the other building projects completed in town during the last few years, the police station and the community center.

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