Couple injured, pets die in city house fire Tuesday

chinchillaGilford firefighter Nick Proulx administers oxygen to revive “Zippy,” a chinchilla caged in the basement, who overcame smoke inhalation as the only one of three pets to survive a fire that heavily damaged a ranch at the corner of Elm Street and Massachusetts Avenue yesterday.(Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

LACONIA — A man suffered second-degree burns and his wife was taken with smoke inhalation as they sought to spare their pets from a fire that broke out at their home at 419 Elm St. shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. While two cats perished, firefighters rescued and resuscitated “Zippy,” a chinchilla overcome by smoke.

Fire Chef Ken Erickson said the fire was reported at 1:14 p.m. and within four minutes Lieutenant Jay Ellingson and his crew of five arrived to find heavy fire from a one-story ranch with attached garage at the corner of Elm Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Ellingson requested a first alarm and was soon joined by another eight off-duty firefighters, who were attending an emergency medical services class at Central Station, with an engine and an ambulance as well as crews Gilford, Belmont, Tilton and Meredith.

Ellingson’s crew ran two hoses, one through the front porch to extinguish the main body of the fire and another through a front door to stop the fire from spreading through the house. Erickson said that the fire started on the porch alongside the garage, blew out a window, broke into a breezeway and shattered a glass door. The heat melted a ceiling fan and window shades in the adjoining room, which the flames did not reach. But, fire had climbed to the attic and run down a hallway toward the kitchen, where t was licking at the cabinets, when it was brought under control with in 20 minutes. Erickson said that because the door was closed a bedroom at the rear of the home escaped with little damage, a reminder of why to sleep with the doors closed.
Both the husband and wife re-entered the house during the fire to rescue their pets. Though they were safely outside when firefighters arrived, both were taken to Lakes Region General Hospital where the man was treated for burns to his head and the woman for smoke inhalation. Erickson said the woman told him she was amazed at how fast the fire spread and stressed that “the lesson here is get out and stay out.”
Erickson estimated the value of the damage at $70,000, but added he expected the figure to rise.
Meanwhile, standing in the cold, her chinchilla wrapped in a throw and clutched to her chest, the woman said “I may have to call him Smokey.”

Members of closed swim club likely won’t get full refunds

LACONIA — Members of the now defunct Laconia Athletic and Swim Club will have to wait a while for refunds from their membership dues and will likely not get a full refund, said the head of the Consumer Protection arm of the New Hampshire State Attorney’s Office Monday.
Attorney James Boffetti said owners Tom and Lori Oakley are working to provide his office a complete list of members and the amount of money each is owed. There is a $50,000 bond; however, he said the total amount owed to members likely exceeds that.
“The bond is made out to the state of New Hampshire,” said Boffetti.
Once he has the total amount owed to former members, he said he will petition the court for release of the bond to his office. The proceeds will be prorated according to the amount each former member is owed and distributed accordingly.
State law says that any health club owner shall take out a bond for $50,000 to financially protect members who pay dues to any health club that fails. Boffetti said $50,000 is the state-required maximum for a health club bond for refund liability.
He said he doesn’t foresee any reason why a judge would release the money to the state for redistribution, although he said the process will take three or four months at a minimum.
The Laconia Athletic and Swim Club closed abruptly on Thanksgiving Day after operating for 34 years in its location on North Main Street. The Oakleys told former members in an email that he expected the club to reopen soon, although they were looking for investors.
Boffetti said the law protecting consumers who pay up front for memberships at health clubs was passed in 1983. He said the goal was to offer some protection to people who pay up-front club dues, and the effect has been to move health clubs away from long-term contracts.
“Usually if [health clubs] do [memberships] from month-to-month they don’t have to have a bond,” Boffetti said.
The Laconia Athletic and Swim Club had stopped taking year-long memberships before they failed. Oakley said there were 63 full- and part-time employees.

State reps try – but fail – to stop bill on toplessness

CONCORD — Rep. Brian Gallagher, a Republican from Sanbornton, expected his bill to prohibit women from baring their breasts in public to spark controversy, but he was surprised yesterday when the Republican leadership of the New Hampshire House of Representatives sought to ensure that it, like the nipples he seeks to veil, would not see the light of day.
By longstanding tradition, every bill filed by the 400 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate in New Hampshire is granted a hearing before a committee and brought to a vote on the floor. But, yesterday, as the House readied to vote to accept more than 700 bills filed by its members the majority leader Dick Hinch, a Republican from Merrimack, moved to cull Gallagher’s bill from the herd and forestall its introduction.
Hinch told the House the bill was “too controversial” and noted that the question of public toplessness is before the court, a reference to the case of Heidi Lilley, who was issued a citation by the Gilford Police after baring her breasts on the town beach last summer, which is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division.
A roll call vote to scuttle the bill failed, 186 to 160. Ten of Gallagher’s fellow Republican members of the Belknap County delegation — Russ Dumais of Gilford; Dennis Fields of Sanbornton; Don Flanders, Bob Luther and Frank Tilton of Laconia; Valerie Fraser of New Hampton; Shari LeBreche of Belmont; Dave Russell of Gilmanton; Herb Vadney of Meredith; and Peter Varney of Alton — voted to quash his bill. Two, Glen Aldrich of Gilford and Ray Howard of Alton, joined George Hurt of Gilford and Peter Spanos, both co-sponsors of the bill, and Gallagher in voting to spare it.
Gallagher described the ploy by the leadership as “suppression of free speech. I was elected to represent the people,” he said. “People expressed a concern. I filed a bill and went through the process. My concern is that the bill could be taken away without the opportunity to have a debate on its merits.”
The leadership reacted to a squabble about the bill between representatives that erupted on social media last week which quickly drew attention from the national media. On her Facebook page, Rep. Amanda Bouldin, a Manchester Democrat, chided the sponsors of the bill, all men and all Republicans, for their hypocrisy in championing small government and personal freedom with one hand and policing women’s bodies with the other.
Bouldin’s remarks prompted Rep. Josh Moore, a Republican from Merrimack and co-sponsor of the bill, to reply.
“If it’s a woman’s natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that,” he wrote, “then you should have no problem with a man’s inclination to stare at it and grab it.”
Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, joined the fray, telling Bouldin “No disrespect, but your nipple would be the last one I would want to see.”
Following the vote to introduce Gallagher’s bill, Shawn Jasper, the Republican Speaker of the House, called for civility without referring specifically to the controversy over the bill. He reminded members that with the presidential primary in full swing, New Hampshire and its Legislature are in the national spotlight and untoward remarks cast both in a poor light.
Meanwhile, Gallagher’s bill, House Bill 1525, has been referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which has yet to schedule a public hearing.