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Laconia man dies in apartment building fire along Winnipesaukee River; 6 units destroyed

LACONIA — A local man perished in a fast-moving four-alarm fire at a six-apartment building on the south bank of the Winnipesaukee River Tuesday night. Firefighters battled the flames until morning.

A sturdy door that wouldn't budge apparently prevented a team of good Samaritans from entering the man's apartment and attempting a rescue.

The man, whose identity is being withheld pending an autopsy by the state's Chief Medical Examiner Office, lived alone in one of the middle apartments at 66 Davis Place. He was remembered by his neighbor Michael Hilson as someone who was very friendly and who liked to get exercise by walking around the neighborhood.

"He was a very nice, older guy," Hilson said yesterday. "Very fit."

American Red Cross officials said six people and several dogs and cats were displaced by the fire. The agency provided victims with immediate financial assistance, food, clothing, lodging, coats, bedding, linens and a storage container.

The fire was called in to 9-1-1 at 10:47 p.m. and dispatchers from the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid building off Parade Road said their cameras recorded the flames from over a mile away. Within five minutes of the call, smoke and flames could be seen from Highland and Winter Street. on Hospital Hill.

Two young area men who spoke to media at the scene said they lived in an apartment on nearby Church Street and were taking out their garbage when the saw the flames. One of them said he called 9-1-1. They said it looked like the fire started near or under a rear porch in one of the middle units.

The building consists of six, two-story apartments lined up in a row.

The young men said they ran to the building and knocked on one door at an end unit and helped one person out. They said when they got to the victim's door, they began pounding on it, saying they knew the man and knew he was very hard of hearing.

"We tried to break down the door but we couldn't do it," said one of the young men. He said a police officer joined them briefly while they were pounding on the front door and made them leave so they wouldn't get hurt.

Hilson said he sleeps in the back of his own house and didn't know anything was out of the ordinary until he heard sirens. He said he looked out his front door and saw flames coming from across the street.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said yesterday that first-responding crews from Laconia and Gilford tried fighting the fire from the inside of the building for about 40 minutes but once the fire burned through the roof he said he had to remove the teams from inside and mount an outside attack.

"We did an aggressive search and attack," he said, noting at one point he had seven separate teams with hoses inside the building. He said firefighters knew there was one person inside and two people who weren't accounted for in the early stages of the blaze.

He said the heat from the blaze burned a Laconia firefighter around his ears and neck when the flames "flashed over" one of the teams fighting the blaze from the inside.

Fighting the fire, he said, was made even more challenging by the 0-degree temperatures and icing around the building and the equipment. On Wednesday morning, bushes around the house were covered with ice.

The N.H. Fire Marshal was working with Laconia firefighters to determine the cause. As of yesterday morning, the scene was still being secured by Laconia police.

Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Chief Jim Hayes said Tuesday night the blaze was the first multiple-call incident since the LRMFA installed its computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) system in November of 2013.

Moments before the Davis Place fire was reported, Belmont and Laconia were sent to a first-alarm structure fire on Lamprey Road in Belmont.

Hayes said the CAD system automatically eliminates vehicles when they are dispatched meaning the two dispatchers no longer have to determine by hand what equipment is available.

Hayes said while it's not unusual for there to be overlapping incidents in the 35-town area covered by LRMFA, Tuesday was the first time since November that both Belmont and Laconia had a major structure fire at the same time.

"They use the same resources for a first alarm fire," he said.

He said since Belmont had a structure fire, all Belmont resources were automatically directed toward Lamprey Road. Because the Davis Place call came within a minute of the first call, first responders from Laconia who were starting to head to Belmont were diverted.

Hayes said Belmont's supervisor knew the Laconia fire was more serious than the Belmont fire — the people in the Lamprey Road home were out of the house — and told dispatch to send non-Belmont resources to Laconia first and "back-fill" his call.

Fire companies called to Laconia came from as far away a Holderness to the north and Concord to the South. Two units from Gilford, two from Meredith, one from Sanbornton, one from Franklin, one from Center Harbor and one from New Hampton went to Davis Place along with Concord and Holderness. He said one crew from Tilton-Northfield was sent to Laconia after clearing from Belmont. Two Stewart's ambulances also responded — one to the fire and one to a medical call on Beacon Street West.

Hayes said crews from Moultonborough, Gilmanton, Barnstead, and Loudon were sent to cover nearby communities.

Also assisting in at the scene were the Community Emergency Response Team, LRMFA, and Laconia Police. The control of the house was given to the N.H. Fire Marshal Office whose representatives are working with Laconia to determine the cause.

Hayes said the police role in a major fire is critical because they are tasked with identifying the people who fled the fire but likely sought shelter elsewhere because of the extreme cold.

For at least some of the night, two people were unaccounted for and Hayes said the LPD did a great job of finding and identifying them.

"They have a way of asking direct, pointed questions," he said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 03:14

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Boys and Girls Club Capital Campaign Reaches Million Dollar Mark (520 w/cut slugged bgcmillion)

LACONIA — The Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region marked a milestone Thursday morning with a ceremony at the club's new home — the former St. James Episcopal Church on North Main Street — which celebrated reaching the million dollar milestone in the club's $2.4 million fund drive.
Children who take part in the programs offered by the club gathered outside briefly on a frosty winter morning to symbolically push ''the rock'' higher up the hill on a sign in front of the building which charts the progress of the fund drive.
''We're really pleased with our progress,'' said Chris Adams, president of the Boys and Girls Club and Laconia Police chief, who said that among the donations which have helped the club make progress was a $400,000 gift from Gladys and Tony Sakowich of Andover, Mass., long-time summer residents of the Lakes Region.
Mr. Sakowich, who died on Feb. 14 at the age of 95, made the gift over four years ago after being advised by Paul Gaudet, Sr., founder of AutoServ, that it was a project that would fulfill the Sakowich's desire to leave a lasting legacy in the Lakes Region.
The gift was announced last year at a leadership meeting held after it had been announced that the club had reached an agreement to purchase the Saint James Episcopal Church but the amount was not known until recently.
Al Posnack, who chairs the Capital Campaign Committee, said that among the major donors so far has been the Bank of New Hampshire, which contributed $100,000 at the capital campaign kickoff last fall and has contributed over $250,000 to support the club's programs over the last 10 years.
He said that there are three elements to be covered by the fund drive: $700,000 for the purchase of the church property, $700,000 for renovations to the property and $1 million for an endowment fund.
Last March the Vestry of the church accepted the club's offer to purchase the land and buildings for a reported price of $700,000. The property provides 17,000-square-feet of space between the ground floor and half-basement and sits on a 1.3-acre lot.
The new facility includes eight program rooms, which will provide space for academic support, art, small group activity, and computers, a 5,000-square-foot great room for indoor recreation, drama, dance, music, and social opportunities, a modern institutional kitchen for nutrition programs, cooking lessons, independent living skill building, and many meals as well as a spacious community room which house a Kids Cafe and Game Room, as well as being a community resource according to Cheryl Avery, executive director,.
Last November the club was awarded a $250,000 grant by the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, which will be applied toward the acquisition of the building. It also has applied for a second $250,000 grant for the project, both of which have been applied for through the Belknap County Commission.


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Hailey and Leah, who celebrated her 9th birthday Thursday, move ''the rock'' up the hill to mark the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region reaching the one million dollar mark in its capital campaign, which has a goal of $2.4 million. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 11:18

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Proposed Inter-Lakes budget prepared with an eye on declining enrollment

MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes School District voters will be asked next week to approve a $21.9 million budget at the annual District Meeting which is scheduled for next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the high school gymnasium
That figure represents a 4.3 percent increase over the nearly $21 million budget which voters approved last year.
Included in the proposed budget for school year 2014-2015 are funds for capital projects, such as repaving and roof repairs, according to Assistant Superintendent Trish Temperino. "It's part of the ongoing care of our buildings and grounds, but there's nothing out of the ordinary," she said.
The budget also reflects a slight decrease in staffing levels which is a direct result of lower enrollment.
A retiring second-grade teacher will not be replaced, and a part-time math teaching position at the high school is being cut. In addition, a custodial and four paraeducator (aide) positions are being eliminated through attrition. The savings from the reductions in paraeducators will be used to hire a certified behavior specialist who will work with students who are at-risk, in crisis, or who have some kind of education disability.
The realignment and reduction in staff equates to the loss of just over two full-time positions, said Temperino.
School Board Chairman Richard Hanson said that balancing the goal of providing a strong educational program for Inter-Lakes students in the face of declining enrollment is a challenge which school administrators and the School Board will be facing for years to come.
Salaries, benefits and other costs associated with teachers and other staff account for 80 percent of the district's budget.
According to the latest enrollment figures, the largest class in the Inter-Lakes District is this year's graduating class which at present numbers 93 students. The freshman class at Inter-Lakes High, however, has 81 students.

First-graders in the three-town district make up the smallest class, with just 66 students. The decline in enrollment is not consistently downward, however. For example, second-grade enrollment is 82, but third grade is 67.
Temperino said that when it comes to drawing up the budget, school administrators "always focus on the needs of the students that we have, and those needs shift and change from year to year." She said that the proposed budget reflects a greater focus on improving education in science, math and technology, which means in part spending money so students have more access to emerging technology.
"Education is rapidly changing," said Hanson. Besides the increased use of technology, he said schools are faced with the "increasing reality our students are having increasing needs and educational difficulties."
The school board at its budget work session in January returned money to the proposed budget in order to retain a teacher position at the high school to work with students who are struggling with reading.
Hanson said it's his sense that overall the public feels that the Inter-Lakes District is doing a good job in educating its children. He said that he hasn't seen the "nasty letters to the editor or anger" that accompanied the district's budget process four or five years ago.
Still, he acknowledged that if enrollment continues to decline then the size of the school staff will continue to decline as well. The challenge, said Hanson, will be finding a way to cut those staff numbers "without harming our students."
Hanson said the move to more customized and individualized learning could mean that students could get some their credits by using on-line education programs at home. And he said the impetus toward more competency-based education would put more weight on what skills a student possesses than on what courses they take.
Aside from the operating budget, the only other major item scheduled to come up at the school district meeting is a vote on the cost items contained in a tentative contract with the Inter-Lakes Support Staff Association, the union which represents the district's paraeducators. The contract calls for increases in salaries and benefits totaling and additional $46,117 for the 2014-15 school year, and $47,619 and $51,460 in each of the following two years.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 02:33

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Belmont couple just turning in when they smelled smoke

BELMONT — Firefighters extinguished a chimney fire at 112 Lamprey Road Tuesday night that officials said was likely caused by a corroded thimble in a pellet stove.

Chief Dave Parenti said the call came into Belmont at 11:47 p.m. — three seconds before what ended up being a four-alarm fatal fire in Laconia.

"We use the some resources," Parenti said, saying it was unusual to have two major calls come in at virtually the same time. "As usual, (the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid) dispatch did a great job sorting it out.

Parenti said Belmont crews went to Lamprey Road along with crews from the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department to put out the fire while a crew from Gilmanton covered the Belmont station.

Parenti said the home owner had installed a pellet stove last year where there had been a wood-burning stove and it appeared some sparks went through the thimble and down along the outside of the chimney, igniting some of the beams.

He said firefighters were able to extinguish most of the fire from the outside of the house causing minimal damage to the inside.

Parenti said the house has a secondary heating system and the owners were able to stay there last night.

He said the couple had just gone to bed when one of them smelled smoke. There were no working smoke detectors in the home.

"They were very fortunate this happened while they were still awake," he said.

Parenti said all homes should have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and that homeowners should call the Belmont Fire Department at 267-8333 if they have any questions about installing them or changing the batteries every six months.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 02:23

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