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New Salem fire chief outlines plans for future

By Ryan Lessard
Union Leader Correspondent

August 30. 2018 8:06PM
Chief Lawrence "Larry" Best is wrapping up his first week as Salem's fire chief. He started the new job on Sunday, Aug. 26. (RYAN LESSARD/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

SALEM — The new chief of the Salem Fire Department, wrapping up his first week in the new post, said he has plans to expand wellness programs for his firefighters and build more facilities in the coming years.

Lawrence “Larry” Best, who officially started his role as chief on Sunday, Aug. 26, has served as assistant chief since February of 2016. He replaces former Chief Paul Parisi after Parisi took the job of state fire marshal.

Best said Parisi was a mentor to him.

“We had a great relationship and he was a great chief to work for,” he said.

Best said he is holding off on a swearing-in ceremony until he is able to make a number of promotions in the department. Best said that would likely take place in October or November. He expects most of the top positions, like the new assistant chief, will be selected internally from the officers and battalion chiefs.

“We have strong candidates for the position,” Best said.

He said they also need to fill the position of EMS director.

While hiring and working on the town’s annual budget process is taking up his immediate focus, Best said he has a number of goals to grow the department as the town grows.

In the next five years, he hopes to build a new headquarters. The ideal location would be close to the current headquarters on Main Street, within half a mile, he said.

“Our fire headquarters was built in 1967 and we’ve outgrown it,” Best said.

Not only is there insufficient space for staff and vehicles, Best said, but he’d like to add gym facilities for a new physical fitness program.

Eventually, he also hopes to get a fourth station built on the west side of town, probably in the area of Lowell Road and Stiles Road.

Currently, the response times in that part of town are between seven to nine minutes. The goal for the department is to meet the standard four-minute response time or less 90 percent of the time.

The department contracted The H.L. Turner Group in Concord to do a facility needs study in July. The consulting firm is providing draft reports right now and Best expects them to wrap up the final study soon.

Best plans to hire an architectural firm in the next three or four weeks to do a space needs study, which will focus on plans for a new headquarters.

In addition to the physical fitness program and new gym facilities, Best hopes to launch a more comprehensive employee wellness program that includes cancer screenings and prevention as well as improved access to mental health services for things like post traumatic stress.

He said he’s been in talks with an organization called Laboratory for Advanced Medicine, which has offices in California, Texas and Indiana, according to its website.

In its efforts to better address the opioid epidemic, Best said the department has partnered with a community coalition called Stand Up Salem to provide CPR and Narcan training, and he plans to continue doing those.

But there’s no plan to institute a Safe Station program.

“We’ve thought about it,” Best said.

The problem with a Safe Station program in Salem, Best said, is there are no treatment programs available in the community, and, since the department operates its own ambulances, it would tie up department resources trying to transport people out of town.

Still, people do sometimes seek help at the stations. When that happens, Best said they bring them to area hospitals.

The department is currently staffed with a total complement of 69 firefighters, with 17 on duty per shift.

As the town grows in the coming years, with major developments like Tuscan Village, he expects the department will need to hire more firefighters to meet increased demand.

Best has more than 30 years of experience in the fire service and has been in the Salem Fire Department since 2003. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire and emergency management from Rivier College.

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