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Fire dept. seeks grant for upgrades


September 17, 2009
CHARLESTOWN — Firefighter John McCann recently submitted an application for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant for $965,000 in federal stimulus money to upgrade and expand the Charlestown fire station.

McCann said the fire station is in dire need of renovations.

From being structurally unsound to simply lacking room to house their equipment, the problems are not minor, he said.

McCann said the station hasn't been upgraded since its original construction in 1974. Contractor Mike Blanc of Blanc and Bailey Construction came up with the $965,000 figure after assessing the station's damage repair costs and possible expansion costs.

Although the building is not up to code, McCann said the building has not officially been deemed unsound because it was grandfathered in; however, it will lose its "grandfathered" status as soon as work is done to repair it.

Because of this, McCann said the department decided to actively pursue nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money.

If the grant is approved, McCann said it will fund the project 100 percent. The proposed upgrades will include: sleeping quarters for six to eight people upstairs, a new foundation, complete roof repairs and many more structural upgrades and expansions.

"We'll also be making the bathrooms ADA (Americans with Disablities Act) compliant," McCann said.

He added that gear racks and lockers would also be installed so that firefighters would have a place to store their equipment.

McCann said the fire station grant application ended up being 28 pages long.

"They really want you to come up with a narrative of what you're trying to achieve with this money," McCann said.

On August 10, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., sent a letter to the assistant administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the proposed upgrades.

"I fully support the Charlestown Fire Department's application and urge your serious consideration of these worthy projects," Shaheen said in the letter. "These much needed repairs and additions will allow the department to operate more efficiently and ensure they are ready to act in times of crisis."

Among the upgrades, Shaheen added that "clean energy technology, such as more efficient heating and cooling systems, will also be incorporated into station renovations."

Fire Chief Gary Wallace said his department was the fifth out of 78 departments in the Southwestern New Hampshire Mutual Aid Fire District in 2008 in terms of number of calls.

Wallace and McCann still haven't gotten word on whether the fire station will be eligible to receive a portion of the grant money should they not be awarded the full amount.

"If they give us less we'll sit down, sharpen our pencils and make cuts to do what we need to do," Wallace said.

He added that the department expects to hear back on the grant sometime this fall.

Police Chief Ed Smith, who has sought to expand the Charlestown Police Department in the past, said he's unsure if his department will have an article on expansion for town vote this March.

"Regarding the new building proposal, I think it's a little early to know how we will be proceeding," Smith said. "A lot will hinge on the fire department's grant proposal."

Last March, voters rejected an article to expand the police department.

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