LACONIA — During a tour of Central Station yesterday, Fire Chief Ken Erickson, like a bride in a new home, pointed to closets everywhere he went. "We didn't have a single closet in the old station," he said. "Not one."
Erickson said the department has settled into its new administrative and living quarters, and renovation of the apparatus bay and training area of Central Station is expected to be complete by the end of next month.
"I'd say the administrative wing is nearly 100 percent complete," Erickson said. "We've had training sessions and set up the emergency operations center during the Pumpkin Festival. But we've got a lot stuff stored in here that belongs in the apparatus bay."
He added that despite overcoming the mysteries of the telephone and intercom systems the transition has gone smoothly. "We're no longer working around contractors," he said.
The chief stressed that the public entrance to Central Station is on the Tremont Street side of the building, where there are a number of parking spaces for visitors. He said that parking was scarce in the past, although architects, contractors and landlords frequently review plans with the Fire Prevention Division. "We're also the city health department, where people come with complaints about their living conditions," Erickson said.
Along with a reception area, the ground floor houses the offices of the chief and three deputies as well as the person who manages the billing for ambulance service. There is also what Erickson called "our library," where reference and educational materials are kept, a small private meeting meeting room and a room where building plan can be reviewed.
The emergency operations center, equipped with communications equipment, provides space for city officials from various departments to meet together and manage resources in the event of significant incident, like a heavy snow storm. "I remember having the city manager, police chief, director of public works, director of parks and recreation all practically on top of each other in my old office," Erickson recalled.
Finally, a large room, furnished with folding tables wired for computers and electricity, serves the Fire Department as a teaching room while doubling as a community room. It can be entered from either the front of rear of the building while remaining segregated from the remainder of the station. "The Rotary Club has asked about having lunch here," Erickson said.
Erickson described the foyer and corridor on the ground floor as a "walking museum," where photographs of the earliest fire brigades, which were associated with different factories in the city, and many of the fire chiefs, hang from the walls. There is even a framed copy of the front page of the "Winnipesaukee Gazette" reporting the "Great Conflagration," the fire that destroyed much of Main Street between Mill Street an Water Street on Nov. 21, 1860.
The living quarters, with separate accommodations and bathrooms for men and women, are on the second floor. The captain, Bob Landry, known for never missing a fire, warrants a single room, but it is three to a room in each of the each of the other ten. In addition, each shift has been assigned a closet to keep shared and personal items. A fully equipped kitchen, with two refrigerators, opens on to the firefighters' day room overlooking North Main Street.
What was once the chief's office, on the second floor above what was the main entrance, will serve as an office for the captain and lieutenants.
The brass pole that carries firefighters to the ground floor, which originally reached to the third floor of the old station, was cut to serve the new one. "Speed," said Erickson, who expects firefighters to be out the door between 60 second and 90 seconds of being called. The pole leads directly to the where the firefighters' boots and gear are stored, which in turn opens into the apparatus bay.
In place of the overhead doors, the glass paneled doors swing open, eliminating the need to ensure that the engine leaving the station will clear the doorway. Moreover, Erickson said that the new doors open five times faster than the old ones.
"Speed," he repeated.
Firefighters returning from either a fire, traffic accident or medical emergency can step directly into a decontamination ("de-con") room to remove any hazardous material or blood from their clothing or persons. Adjacent to the apparatus bay and below the officers' office there is another office where emergency medical personnel can complete their reports after completing an ambulance run.
The apparatus bay was expanded to add space for a fifth vehicle and an ell was added to the building where three light vehicles, including the truck used by the Community Emergency Response Team.
Finally, the top floor of the old station, which formerly housed the living quarters, will be converted by the firefighters to serve as space for training and fitness.
Erickson said that apart from providing the space the department requires, the renovated and expanded station is functionally much more efficient than its predecessor. "The guys can get directly to their gear and the fleet," he said, "without having to get through hallways and around equipment and vehicles."