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Gilford Fire Department looking to build training structure

July 15, 2009
Gilford Fire Chief Jim Hayes told the Board of Selectmen that the department is looking for a training facility a little closer to home.

"Our primary role is responding to fire and rescue calls to mitigate the circumstances," said Hayes. "To do that we need to constantly train. Basic cognitive skills and base level training is done at the school in Concord. The rest of it is primarily done at the station."

He said that the firefighters do attend other seminars throughout the state that focus on practical skill training and require constant refresher training and continual review. Hayes said that the more realistic the practical training is, the better the results. He said they used to have a facility at Lily Pond that was very convenient for the department, but the property was owned by the Laconia Airport Authority, which chose not to renew their lease. The building they used has since been dismantled and the closest facility is now in Concord.

"We benefited tremendously from that," said Hayes, "because it was close to our community and we had easy access to it."

The department proposed a training structure made of steel "Connex" storage containers built behind the fire station. They would have to excavate a portion of the bank between the fire station and the town hall in order to fit the structure. They would have to level the area and add gravel before construction. The containers would be bolted together and modified to allow different configurations.

The final structure would be 40 ft. high by 24 ft. high by 18 ft. high. Hayes said it was the approximate size of a two-story house. Props could be placed inside to simulate different obstacles. The outside of the structure can be painted to match the outside of the fire station, which will serve to slightly camouflage the structure from view. It won't be visible from Route 11, but anyone who visits the town hall will be able to see it, he said.

"We need a facility that allows us to practice practical skills on a regular basis," said Hayes. "We can run hoses up and down the firehouse stairs, but it's not the same thing because we have to be so careful about damage. We can put film over breathing apparatus, but it is not the same as a smoke filled room."

The department would raise the funds for construction themselves through fundraisers. The entire project can be done for about $20,000 and the maintenance cost for re-painting and the portion of the budget currently used for training would be used to cover bills for repairing the damage. Hayes said that they looked into grants at the state and federal level, but there were none offered for this particular product.

"Anyone who has been there knows that training is where the department invests the most time," said Selectman Gus Benavides. "I move that we authorize them to move forward with the construction through the raising of private donations."

Selectman John O'Brien said he was fully supportive of the concept, but he was concerned about how the structure would look to visitors. He asked if the department has backup locations planned. Hayes said that they had considered the landfill, but he said most of the area was filled and he wasn't sure what the laws were on building there. Benavides offered that it could be viewed as a demonstration of how hard the department is working to progress and hone their skills.

In the end the vote was taken in the absence of Selectmen Kevin Hayes and failed 1-1. O'Brien then motioned that they authorize the department to look into alternative locations for the structure and report back to the board.

"Obviously what we are proposing would be ideal in terms of convenience," said Hayes, "but it isn't a deal breaker."

He said that one benefit to having a facility close by is that they could save on insurance, because it is safer for a department to have one. Hayes said that no other town in the county has a facility of their own. He added that they might rent its use, the money going to help maintain the structure.

This project is different than the virtual reality training with computers posed by the chief recently. A grant for project funding is currently being considered, which will pay for the set-up.

"This is a completely different project," said Hayes. "We will have to wait and see if it pans out."

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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