Thoughts on Hampton Beach Tragedy

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By Mike Sullivan

Seacoast Sunday, Sunday, March 7, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

Firefighters from 40 fire departments helped contain the Feb. 26 fire at Hampton Beach.[John Carden Photo]

A few thoughts, opinions and observations related to the aftermath of the fire down at Hampton Beach.

It's amazing that nobody was seriously injured in the blaze that wiped out part of Ashworth Avenue, especially the nearly 200 firefighters from around the region and beyond who responded.

The Hampton Fire Department and the 40 -- yes, count 'em, 40 -other fire departments that helped out did the best they could under extreme circumstances. They deserve nothing short of heroic credit for their efforts.

It's interesting, though, to hear Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver's comments about the emergency effort. He flat-out said there is a chance the damage could have been more limited if the town had the proper resources.

"We are not properly staffed,' but we also realize that we can't afford to staff the way we should," Silver told the Hampton Union last week.

Silver's message is accurate, although the timing, right after people lost their businesses and some even lost a home, is a bit curious. Still, he's right, and it's part of his job to advocate for the safety of the people in the town he serves, not to mention for the department he leads.

Obviously, we'll never truly know if an increase in immediate manpower would have made much of a difference, but it's hard to imagine it wouldn't have. The same can be said for updated equipment and facilities - you just have to have them. Fire just isn't something you want to roll the dice of chance with.

Having more immediate resources increases the likelihood of fighting any fire or disastrous situation more efficiently. Something for everyone to think about at the polls, which is what Silver was indirectly suggesting. No doubt, life has become expensive and tough to manage for many of us, but spending the extra on safety precautions is invaluable.

The proof is right there where the block of businesses on the corner of Ashworth Avenue used to be.

of us are guilty of it at least on occasion. Heck, I'm known to be that way in this space from time to time, but to let cynicism guide your reactions in times of distress and tragedy is just sad.

That said, shame on anybody who accused Governor Lynch of visiting the wreckage last Sunday as a political move. He was there because as a governor it was his duty to be there. If you were there, you could also see the look of concern on his face was genuine.

I actually read accusations posted online that if his visit was indeed genuine his staff wouldn't have alerted the media he was going down there. Ridiculous! His staff routinely alerts the media to his public appearances. Conversely, the media - I speak of the news-reporting variety, which admittedly has become a rarity nowadays -- has a duty to report such an appearance by the governor.

There are lots of opinions about what should happen next down at the beach, but seriously, it's too early for all that. People lost their businesses, some people are displaced from their homes, and there's a lot of work to be done.

Still, the popular hope is the area will be rebuilt with a sense of future in mind, and perhaps kick-start a makeover of a beach area that is in dire need.

Many of us have fond memories of the beach from years gone by, but the culture down there has changed drastically over the past 15 years or so. If I had high-school-aged children, I would be worried sick about them down there at night.

Speaking of worried sick, it's scary to think about how many old buildings down at the beach don't have updated fire suppression systems.

It's a wonder more of the strip didn't go up in flames. Again, credit the firefighters.

Is it just me, or is the peace of mind that comes with owning a generator, never mind the benefits of using it when needed, really starting to seem worth the investment?

Murphy's Law dictates that if you buy a generator now you won't have to use it, but still, knowing it's there would be a real comfort after the power outages many of us have experienced the past couple of years.

"Fire just isn't something you want to roll the dice of chance with. Having more immediate resources increases the likelihood of fighting any fire or disastrous situation more efficiently. Something for everyone to think about at the polls."

Mike Sullivan is a Seacoast Sunday columnist. His column appears every week, and you can also read him Mondays in Portsmouth Herald Sports. Sully can be reached at

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