Future of fire department discussed

LYNDEBOROUGH – At town meeting in March, residents will be asked to determine the direction the Fire Department should take in providing for town needs for the next 50 years. A committee spent two years studying the question, but they made no specific recommendation, just presented the pros and cons of two options, one of which is to build a sub-station near the Town Hall in Lyndeborough Center.

The Fire Department does not wholly agree. Fire Chief Brian Smith said the focus should be on upgrading the present station on Route 31.

On Monday, Jan. 7, Selectmen met with Smith, Study Committee Chairman John Pomer, Former Fire Chief Zeke Harkleroad who did an analysis of both options, and several interested citizens.

Selectman Chairman Fred Douglas said the reason for the meeting was the differing points of view, and a need to discuss the direction of the department and how to get there. “If we aren’t all on the same page,” he said, “it ain’t gonna happen. Unless we all agree, it won’t go through.” He added, “We are obliged to bring it to the town to get some direction.”

It was agreed that the present station needs a lot of expensive work. The original station was built in 1948 and later doubled in size. It does not meet current building codes, will not house a new large firetruck, and does not have land enough to expand. The town does not own the site and if it ceases to be a fire station, it will revert to the Sherman Family Trust.

It was agreed that the station should be kept for the emergency response vehicle since it is most used along the Route 31 corridor. And, Smith said, most of the town’s population in in the southern part of the town.

A town-owned field behind the town hall is the suggested site for a new, larger station.

Harkleroad’s analysis of response time, “was based solely on Google distances,” but he said response time “involves a lot more than just distance,” including where firefighters live, road conditions, and the time of day. He said the distance from the village to “the farthest house on the Second N.H. Turnpike” is about seven miles, and from the Center about four miles. People living more than five miles from a fire station pay higher insurance premiums.

Smith said under mutual aid agreements, calls there are answered by neighboring towns “and they always get there before we do.”

Smith said he had “no problem with a station in the center”, but the focus should be on the current station.

Town Administrator Russ Boland said he saw the question as a “fair and equitable distribution of services to everyone in town.” He also noted safety concerns at the present station where firemen park across Route 31 at the library. “It scares me. Safety is our first concern.”

Since whatever is done will be years in the future, Boland suggested “a two-pronged approach,” starting the preliminary site work in the Center to be sure the site is buildable while doing required work at the present station. Any move to a new substation would a “gradual transition” over several years.

He told Smith, “And we shouldn’t force something on you that you don’t want.”

A first step would be talking to the abutter about a purchase of land for an expansion and a parking area. Costs of various options also need to be determined as well as a time line.

Selectman Mark Chamberlain said an informal evaluation of the station showed that it cannot be added on to without upgrading the whole building. An addition would have to “structurally separate.” He noted the Planning Board needs to be involved and the town’s Master Plan. “We need to look ahead 40 years and where the growth will be.”

Those involved are to meet and prepare a joint statement for town meeting. That presentation will include the Committee’s report as well as information from the last study done in 2004.

Town Meeting business portion is scheduled for Saturday, March 16. A public budget hearing will be held on Feb. 5 where costs will be discussed.