Two Alarms For Firehouses

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Chief Lipe: Station Plans go Hand in Hand

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, February 22, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe stands in a storage area inside the fire station that shows significant damage to the ceiling.
[Don Clark photo]

Taking a tour of the Hampton beach fire station constructed 85 years ago, it's no wonder why officials are looking to get out of there.

"We have probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing this building over the years," Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe said.

In the last three years alone, the department has spent money replacing roofing because of termites, removed mold because of flooding and built a substation within the station to deal with toxic lead paint in order to keep the station open.

The wooden structure is not big enough to contain all the equipment needed and doesn't come close to meeting current building and fire codes, including having a working sprinkler system. The station, which serves as the town's headquarters, is also in the high-risk zone and just last year had to be shut down because of extensive flooding during April's nor'easter.

Lipe said two warrant articles that will go before voters in March will try to bring the department's facilities into the 21st century. One asks voters to spend $2.1 million to construct a smaller but more durable substation at the beach.

The other asks voters to support a $4.6 million addition to the town fire station on Winnacunnet Road that was originally constructed in the 1970s.

The new facility will house the town's building, conservation and planning departments as well serve as the department's new headquarters.

A tired building

The beach fire station was constructed by voters of the Hampton Beach Precinct in 1923. What was then a state-of-the-art building has deteriorated into a building that is "no longer acceptable to house a fire department."

"We have come along way construction wise since 1923," Lipe said. "This building would not pass inspection by today's standards. The only reason why we are able to stay here is because we're grandfathered in."

The building has a laundry list of problems, including an out-of-date wiring system where wires protrude from the walls.

A section of the apparatus bay was closed because the town didn't have money to remove all of the lead paint as required by the state's Department of Labor. Concrete flooring in one of the bays is collapsing because of a busted drainage pipe and the roof inside the small crew room continues to leak during heavy rain despite being fixed three times.

Lack of space

Lack of space for the crew and storage is a major problem with the current beach station and the uptown fire station. Lipe said equipment is basically stored wherever there is room. Fire gear is stored in the bays where exhaust from the trucks coat nearly everything in the building with filmy residue.

The closer bay is used to store the department's ATV unit while cleaning items, older equipment and all the department's vital patient records are stored in the attic.

"We are a public agency and we are in the business of records," Lipe said. "We need these records and they are stored in the attic in a highly flammable building."

Space for the crew, which occupies the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is no better. Firefighters sleep in cots in a small room and share one bathroom upstairs.

EOC in high hazard district

Lipe said the headquarters should not be at the beach and needs to go uptown. The department would make the move now, but there is no room in the uptown station, which is now considered a substation.

"Moving the headquarters along with our Emergency Operation Center uptown takes the critical service we provide and takes it out of the high hazard district," Lipe said.

The beach is considered a high hazard because of its proximity to the ocean. The beach station was forced to close during last April's storm that flooded Hampton Beach. The bays as well as the dispatch center were flooded.

While the Emergency Operations Center was set up at the police station, not all town officials could get there.

"No one could get in and get out of the beach area," Lipe said. "We need to have the EOC uptown with a secondary one at the police station if there is an emergency uptown."

A costly decision

Lipe said the projects go hand in hand and are long overdue. But if voters can only afford one this year, it should be the addition to the uptown fire station, he said.

"If the beach station gets approved and the other one doesn't we would be in big trouble," Lipe said. "The plans for the beach station does not include room for administration."

But plans for a beach station if that article fails will not go away. The town leases the beach station from the Hampton Beach Village Precinct for $1 a year. That lease is set to expire and the town needs to be out of the building by 2009.

"We can't stay here and we don't want to stay here. We are trying to run a business in the 21st century out of a fire house that was built in 1923," Lipe said.

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