By Kyle Stucker
Hampton-North Hampton Patch, November 18, 2013
[The following article is courtesy of Hampton-NorthHampton.patch.com
[Photos by Kyle Stucker]
Even though the Hampton Beach fire station hasn't met the needs of the town for decades, there was still a hint of sadness in the eyes of the many retired firefighters who watched a wrecking crew tear down the roughly 90-year-old building Monday.
"Surreal," "yikes" and "unbelievable" were among the many words uttered by firefighters past and present as board after board and wall after wall came crashing down, punctuating the end of a multimillion project to bring a new Fire Station 1 to town.
"Guys today work in fire stations," said Matt Clark, a captain who retired in 2008 after more than 30 years on the job. "We worked in fire houses. This is kind of like the end of an era. This was a fire house."
Former Deputy Chief Tony Chouinard, who retired 12 years ago after spending over three decades as a Hampton firefighter, estimated that it's been "probably 40 years" since the structure adequately supported the department's various space and equipment demands.
"We loved it," said Chouinard, along with nine other retirees represented over 254 years worth of firefighting experience at the demolition Monday. "It truly is sad to see it come down, but it's evolution. It needed to happen."
The outdated station was bulldozed Monday as part of the culmination of a $5.7 million project that also included many significant upgrades to Fire Station 2, located on Winnacunnet Road.
Many of the historic elements of the beach station were preserved before the demolition, and many items — including a portion of the original wooden 1915 "Hampton Fire Department" sign — will be prominently displayed within the new stations.
The land underneath the old beach station will be turned into more than 80 Hampton Beach Village District parking spaces in order to help the district make more revenue during the summer season.
Many firefighters said it was difficult to see their "second home" effectively wiped off the Hampton Beach map on Monday, although they said any sadness they felt was far outweighed by the joy of knowing that current and future firefighters — as well as the community — will be better off in the long run.
The most anticipated portion of the demolition was the fall of the station's tower, which was used to hang fire hoses to dry, among other things. The tower's most popular unofficial purpose, though, just happened to be serving as the place where firefighters would go to vent their various frustrations, often scrawling messages, complaints and jokes into the wooden walls of the structure.
The old cliché, "If walls could talk," was tossed around several times Monday, and that section of wall would likely do plenty of talking to anyone sifting through the station's remains.
Clark said one of the best parts about the old station was how it fit within the community and helped not only give the department a strong beach presence, but also a great response time and an ability to connect with the public.
He said it shouldn't take long for the new station, located just behind the old one on Ashworth Avenue, to be able to benefit in the same way as the community helps welcome in the new structure.
"It was a nice location," said Clark. "It really had a finger on the pulse of Hampton Beach, and it had a strong sense of the community. It was surrounded by it."