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Fire district still iffy on life safety building

September 02, 2009
TILTON — The Facilities Review Committee of the Tilton-Northfield Fire District hosted members of Tilton's Life Safety Building Committee Monday night for an evening of data sharing.

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Robinson presented statistics and information on the towns of Tilton and Northfield and the services that have been rendered within their mutual fire district. He and LSBC Chairman Ben LaBelle brought along maps of the fire and medical calls from 2004 through 2008, handing out copies for the Facilities Review members to examine.

Call volumes, Robinson reported, range from 15,000 to 16,000 annually now, five times more than when he began in the department over 30 years ago.

"There's a lot more property we're responsible to cover now," he said.

Challenges facing the department he outlined as being simultaneous calls, which occur approximately 20 percent of the time, daytime call volumes when the population of the towns grow through schools and local businesses, recreation along the river and at the mountain bike park in Northfield and a large population in elderly housing and apartment complexes in each town.

"What will the future bring (in growth)?" Robinson said. "I wish we knew."

LaBelle presented a map his committee put together with assistance from Hannaford's, showing the distribution of calls in the fire district.

The heaviest concentration of calls fell in the downtown portions of each town and then to the east of Interstate 93 through to Winnisquam.

Traffic along the Route 3 corridor, seeing as many as 24,000 cars a day, poses a unique challenge to the department as they race to meet emergency needs along the busy roadway.

A second map LaBelle displayed showed drive times from the Park Street Station in Northfield to all reaches of the district and drive times from a hypothetical station located at the intersection of Routes 3 and 140.

Some confusion arose as the Facilities Review Committee tried to understand the purpose of using drive times versus actual response times. LaBelle clarified the point by saying there were no response times for the hypothetical station, therefore they needed to use average drive times to show the accessibility of a station in the actual location along with one in a proposed location.

"It's all about finding the optimal location for a fire department," he said.

"Our research and the MRI (Municipal Resources, Inc.) all tell us we should build east of I-93."

Chairman of both the Facilities Review Committee and the Fire Commission, Kevin Waldron, asked the LSBC why they were looking to involve the fire department in their future plans.

"Why not put a police department in the building you have and be done with it?" he asked.

Tilton resident Pat Clark spoke up to say that the whole fire district would benefit from a life safety building. A lot of real estate in the area past Exit 20 was available, he said, that would be worth pointing out to people in the district. Locating on that side of the interstate would increase response times to a section of the fire district that sees many calls throughout the year.

While Waldron and some committee members felt Tilton would benefit more from an East Tilton fire station, the LSBC pointed out accessibility from there to other areas of Northfield as well. Northfield, from 1970-1980 alone, saw a 40 percent growth in residential housing, much of it best served from the other side of the highway.

LSBC member Pat Consentino asked that the Facilities Review Committee keep in mind the "deplorable" conditions at the fire department's Central Street station. Fire Chief Steve Carrier told them that should a new station be considered, he would like to see it built with some things in mind for future expansion.

"It should be larger than two bays," Carrier said. "There should be the possibility for an aerial truck to be kept there. It makes sense. You'd want equipment like that in your commercial district."

Police Captain Owen Wellington, representative to the LSBC from the Tilton Police Department, assured the FRC that his committee was not trying to plan a fire station for the district. The committee would just like to know, he said, if they would like to have the LSBC consider room for both departments in the future.

FRC representative from the Northfield Board of Selectman, Steve Bluhm, pointed out that his committee was behind the LSBC in their evaluations and had not reached any conclusions as yet.

"You've had 12 meetings," said Bluhm. "This is only our third."

Overall the committee felt they would not complete the checklist of considerations within the fire district for perhaps another four to six weeks. There was no way to make a determination on joining the Tilton police with a Life Safety complex at this time.

Wellington told the FRC that the purpose of the joint meeting was to share information already garnered by his committee and asked that they continue to work together and share knowledge gained. Both committees agreed to communicate and share data as they seek to move forward in decision making for the district.

Wellington closed with an invitation to the members of the Facilities Review Committee by saying, "Come and sit in with us any time. The closer we work together the better."

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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