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Facilities Review Committee at a stalemate

December 02, 2009
TILTON — A meeting by the Comprehensive Facilities Review Committee found members in a stalemate as to the direction they would like to see the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department take in the coming years.

The charge of the committee, as outlined by Fire Commissioner Tom Gallant, is to examine existing facilities, equipment and personnel, then develop a plan, much like a town's master plan, for the future of the department.

Each of the five members of the committee drew up individual objectives as they envisioned TNFD in the next 10 years. With some similarities but two distinct long-term objectives, Northfield Selectman Steve Bluhm of the committee was asked to examine the documents and compile them into one draft proposal.

On Monday evening Bluhm passed out his draft and the debate continued.

Phone conversations with committee members, he said, lead to concessions on some plans. His compilation included a Park Street Station addition as suggested by some but also went along with an eventual Life Safety Complex, which Tilton is currently studying, by the year 2017.

Immediate work on the Central Street Station was one area that all seemed to agree on. Gallant had drawn up plans in which a fire escape would be built onto the aging station. He included moving some partitions and building others to create needed office space and increase bunk areas for overnight staff.

"I'd budget for $15,000 to do a fire escape and get this all done," Gallant said.

He felt a wooden fire escape could be built but also volunteered to look into finding one they could get from an existing building somewhere.

In trying to convince Chairman Kevin Waldron to at least work with the Life Safety Building Committee and give them his input, Waldron flatly refused to do so.

"My concern is when we see this plan of theirs changing. They are trying to convince Northfield by enhancing their story," Waldron said.

Original call volumes east of I-93 that he was told from the LSBC were 18 percent of TNFD's activity. The LSBC has now come up with a figure of a 30 percent call volume in that part of the district. This, he said, has been done to entice Northfield into accepting the plan for a life safety building. Tilton Selectman Sandy Plessner, a member of the CFR committee, explained investigations by the LSBC found all areas east of I-93, representing 30 percent of the calls, would see better response and this would include portions of Northfield, not just East Tilton. Waldron, however, was not convinced.

"They took that into consideration when they saw the 'big fish' (Northfield) wasn't going to be hooked," he responded.

Waldron maintained there is no problem with service in that section of Northfield and East Tilton was the original focal point of the study due to complaints by its residents. Northfield was never a consideration, he said, until recently when rumblings from its taxpayers pushed the town into forming their own fire study.

Part of Bluhm's draft included his and Waldron's idea to ask by warrant for money in 2010 to be put into the building fund for an addition at Park Street. From there Bluhm included a bond in 2017 to build a station in East Tilton as proposed by Gallant and Plessner in their plans. Waldron was opposed to use of a bond for any construction.

"Bond is a four-letter word. I don't pay for anything on 'time,'" he said.

Gallant countered by disagreeing with a $150,000 warrant for construction.

"No way are you going to get voters to do that. Not in this economic time. Get people to put $150,000 in a trust fund? No way in hell," Gallant said.

Eventually it was agreed that should they develop a definite plan to present to taxpayers, one in which the money in question would be shown as a small price to pay toward a broader goal, perhaps it could be met with approval. The committee, however, would have to compile a specific direction for TNFD, something they continue to struggle with.

Fire Chief Stephen Carrier weighed in with what he saw as priorities to the department. Carrier thought that anything the committee did to improve conditions could be workable, but a "simple" addition to Park Street station would be good to help house overnight personnel, he said. He would prefer not to see headquarters for the department moved to Park Street, however, feeling that the district would be best served to maintain headquarters in a prominent location along the Route 3 corridor. An eventual move to a life safety complex would then allow for two staff members to be located at the new station and two in Northfield.

Hearing the addition of one more firefighter to each shift with this idea, Waldron said, "'Hire' is a four-letter word, too."

Having reached a stalemate in discussions, it was decided that each of member would look over the draft Bluhm compiled from their five original proposals and "tweak" what they don't like about it. Changes they make will be emailed for all to look over and be prepared to discuss at their Dec. 21 meeting.

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