Demolition of the Fire Department Training facility off Lily Pond Road, near the transfer station, should occur shortly, Gilford officials said. The facility sustained damage in an October fire. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — The town has received the go-ahead to demolish charred remnants of the Fire Department Training facility off Lily Pond Road, but for one selectman, the question of how the facility was damaged by fire remains a cloud over the community.
The training facility, located near the transfer station, caught on fire on Oct. 4, 2016, sustaining damage that made it unusable for training.
On Wednesday, during a selectmen's meeting, Chairman Richard Grenier asked if the city of Laconia would acknowledge the incident, noting unresolved questions.
"The Laconia Fire Department was out there training, and after they left, it basically burned to the ground," Grenier said.
"I guess my concern is responsibility," Grenier said. "I'm certain there was no maliciousness to it, but we're out a lot of money."
According to reports at the time, firefighters responded shortly before 8 p.m. that night, and by then the roof had nearly collapsed. At the time, Gilford Fire Chief Steve Carrier said his department was called just before 8 p.m. for an outside fire somewhere near the airport and found the roof of the training center burning.
Built with donations, grant money and volunteer labor, the training facility was approved in 2009, constructed in 2010 and used by area departments as a training site for extinguishing fires. Constructed out of metal trailers, it featured three floors of "burn rooms" with wooden studs and drywall nailed to the studs. Firefighters could practice using ladders at the facility, which was equipped with stairways and a roof.
On Wednesday, Gilford Deputy Fire Chief Bradley Ober said the town's insurer, Primex, gave approval in mid-January for the town to conduct demolition at the site. The recycling department found a salvage company to aid in removal of the debris, he said.
"We've cleaned up the parts that we wanted to keep separate. We should have that cleaned up probably within a month," Ober said.
Ober said the town's first priority was to clean up the site and then consider ways to replace the facility.
Cause of the fire was deemed unknown/accidental, Ober told selectmen, although he acknowledged that there was speculation about an arsonist in the area at the time.
"Are we going to see any acknowledgement from the city of Laconia?" Grenier asked.
Ober said, "I wouldn't be able to speak to that."
Grenier said, "To me, if there was an arson, why isn't it being investigated?"
Ober said, "We didn't find anything that indicated it was an arson fire."
Grenier said, "I'm just upset by it. It was an excellent training facility used by a lot of departments, SWAT teams."
"I'm not above going to Laconia's city council," he said.
After the meeting, Grenier said he was reminded of the destruction when he paid a recent visit to the transfer station, prompting his questions.
Laconia Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson, when contacted on Thursday, said, "We were in the building that day training, and that night it burned. When we left the building, we were pretty confident that all the fires were out."
Firefighters left around 3 p.m. By 8 p.m. that night, "it was a roaring inferno," Erickson, who was among the responders, recalled.
"I have reached out to Chief Carrier in the hope that we can help do something," Erickson said. "I haven't heard anything pertaining to the building since the week of the fire."
Erickson said he was not sure what "acknowledgement" means.
The training facility was built using about $25,000 of town money plus a number of donations, including one for $5,000 from Meredith Village Savings Bank, according to press reports.
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