In the late night hours of March 6, a four-alarm fire drained many things from the town of Pittsfield: the energy of 100 firefighters from 18 towns, the town’s municipal water supply and the structural stability of the Rustic Crust bakery, the location of the disastrous blaze.
Almost a day later — when the fire was finally extinguished — all that remained were the charred remnants of the bakery and the holes drilled in the ice of the frozen Suncook River when the town’s water supply ran out.
What the fire did not drain was the spirit and determination of the town and employees of Rustic Crust. On Thursday, just six months after the fire, town officials, first responders and members of the Rustic Crust company officially broke ground on the new bakery facility.
Rustic Crust CEO Brad Sterl, Gov. Maggie Hassan, state and local officials, members of Pittsfield police, fire and EMS teams, fire, police and EMS members from surrounding communities who assisted in fighting the fire, and Rustic Crust employees were all present at the ceremony. The groundbreaking was fittingly completed with pizza paddles instead of shovels. The new bakery will be located in the same spot as the former location.
“As soon as I found out (about the fire) I made two decisions,” Sterl said. “The first decision was that no matter what, we would rebuild this company, rebuild in Pittsfield, for all the employees and for the town — this was really important. The second (decision), which is equally important, was a promise that I would continue to pay all the employees during this horrible time. We kept everybody on the payroll.”
A temporary facility was also built in three weeks. All of the employees who were employed at the bakery were only technically unemployed for a month.
But Thursday’s event was far more than just a groundbreaking. Sterl used it as an opportunity to launch what will soon become a national initiative: the Rustic Crust First Responders Recognition Award program. The initiative will honor members of the first responder community who have demonstrated bravery, dedication and an above and beyond desire to help those within their community.
“As I moved through the weeks following this disaster, one image kept coming to mind — it was the visual of all these first responders, firemen, fighting that blaze that night in sub-zero temperatures,” Sterl said.
That image is what inspired Sterl to start the program, he said. While it’s currently only in New Hampshire, Sterl said he plans to expand it to Northeast communities and eventually make it a national program.
Gov. Hassan spoke about the importance of first responders in the community, particularly after a disaster like the March 6 fire, and also recognized first responder families.
“I hope that all the family members who are either here today or who may watch this later or see these plaques know that he citizens of the Granite State appreciate their sacrifice as well because none of the men and women who do this work could do it without their families who put up with a great deal of description and uncertainty and worry in their lives because their loved ones follow such noble causes,” Hassan said.
The inaugural two First Responders Recognition awards went to the New Hampshire Police, Fire and EMS Association and to Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Martin. Martin led the charge on March 6 for extinguishing the fire.
“It’s an honor not just for first responders but really for the whole town and community wide,” Martin said.
Police Chief James Valiquet of the Bradford Police Department accepted the award on behalf of the New Hampshire Police, Fire and EMS Association. Valiquet is the director of the association, which provides financial assistance and emotional support to non-profit first responder organizations.
“It’s a great opportunity to be recognized. We’re eight years into the foundation, and we’ve been able to assist families with approximately $82,000 over the eight years,” Valiquet said.
Association member Kathy Doolan said the presentation of the inaugural award is representative of what being a first responder means to her.
“For all of our first responders: police, fire and EMS, you know it’s in your blood,” Doolan said. “It’s to help people and all three professions are a specific breed. It’s nice they’re being honored today.”