NEW BOSTON — In response to a lengthy list of firehouse safety hazards that officials have compared to a ticking time bomb, town fire wards are once again asking residents to fund a new fire station to replace the department’s 46-year-old Meetinghouse Hill Road facility.
New Boston fire officials have twice tried and failed to make the case for a new firehouse to address building code violations and a lack of space that Chief Dan MacDonald says is an inevitable threat to the community.
“If we give up, we’re doing a disservice to the residents,” he said. “This will explode, this will fail at some point in time. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but you just can’t keep making ends meet by cutting out services that people don’t see.”
The wards have proposed a warrant article requesting $2.8 million to demolish the old station and build a new one on Mont Vernon Road.
That’s $290,000 more than the 2018 request, with consultants reportedly informing the fire wards that the town should expect an increase of anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 each year they put off the project. In 2017, the first year the department requested the new building, the cost was projected to be $2.5 million.
Most of the concerns for the current firehouse can be traced to tight quarters and outdated construction methods that officials say have resulted in an unsafe station that fails to meet building codes.
Topping the list of space issues is a lack of parking in the center of town for the department’s 58 employees, which captain of training Brandon Merron says runs the risk of impacting the department’s response time.
“One of these days, that’s going to affect someone’s life or something,” said Merron. “If there’s a big snow storm, or there’s church or a ball game, then this town is so filled with cars that our volunteers are driving up on the lawn and double parking when they get here. And then you’ve got to try to slalom one of those firetrucks around all of those cars vehicles. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a public safety issue.”
The current facility is also without a devoted space for firefighters to decontaminate their trucks and gear.
MacDonald says this forces his volunteers to clean their equipment in the middle of the vehicle bay area, causing the contaminated water runoff to go into a floor grate that feeds directly into the Piscataquog.
Mike Wimsatt, director the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ Waste Management Division, declined to comment the specifics of New Boston’s decontamination practices, but stated that, as a general rule, DES would “prefer not to see” vehicle washings and equipment washings being discharged into surface water.
Fire officials also cited the absence of a ventilation system in the vehicle bay, small garage doors that limit the size of the vehicles the station can store on site, a load-bearing beam that engineers say is too small to support the back half of the building and a general lack of space in and around the trucks.
“I would invite folks to go put on a set of turnout gear and try to walk between the trucks easily and see how that goes for them,” said Merron. “It’s not gonna work out.”
The current firehouse was constructed in 1973 as a replacement to a two-bay unheated building that left firefighters unable to store water during the winter.
Since then, MacDonald says the building has failed to adapt to changing conditions in the town.
“In 1973 we had about 1,620 people in New Boston, there were nine members on the fire department and they got about 15 calls a year,” said MacDonald. “Today we’ve got about 5,500 people in town, 58 members and we’re doing about 600 calls a year.”
The wards initially researched the price of renovating the existing building, but they determined that renovation would cost just $700,000 less than new construction, and would only extend the life of the building by 10 to 20 years.
In contrast, MacDonald says a new building would have a lifetime of 40 to 50 years.
“We will not let the ball hit the ground; no fire departments would do that,” he said. “But if you have a fixed budget and your costs are going up, then you’re doing something internally in that organization to make up the deficit, but in the long run, you’re going backwards.”
Residents will weigh in on the proposed station during Deliberative Session on Monday at New Boston Central School.