A shiny new fire station - Firefighters move into the renovated Central Station, enjoy more storage space and even a brass fire pole

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."

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Flying fur: Gilmanton man and dog win DockDog World Championship

GILMANTON — Imagine a "drag race for dogs," as Tim Merrill puts it, and you have the DockDogs World Championship – and Merrill's yellow Labrador retriever Tucker is a champ.

For four years, Merrill and Tucker have competed in the Speed Retrieve event in the sport. Last week, Merrill and his furry friend attended the DockDogs World Championship, held in Dubuque, Iowa, and on Sunday they became world champions in the Nitro class.

Speaking on Wednesday, Merrill's voice was still full of excitement, even after the drive home from Iowa.

"It's edge-of-your-seat excitement," he said. "You never know what your dog is going to do."

The sport of DockDogs includes three events, all of which feature a dog running down a dock and leaping into a pool of water. The Big Air event measures how long a dog can leap off the end of the dock. The Extreme Vertical challenges dogs to leap as high off the dock as they can. Tucker's forte is the speed retrieve, a timed event to see which dog can run down the dock, leap into the pool, swim to the far end and grab a toy, all in the shortest time possible.

To train for the event, Merrill built a pool and dock at his home in Gilmanton Iron Works.

Merrill and his dog went into the event as favorites, having posted the best average times through local qualifying events. Even so, competition was fierce at the World Championship; Tucker's margin of victory over the second-place dog was only about a tenth of a second.

Merrill, who has lived in Gilmanton for nearly four decades, has three dogs. Duke, a chocolate Lab, is his duck hunting dog. Sammy, a black Lab, is the self-appointed family protector and snuggler. Tucker" who will soon turn 6, is has a "massive toy drive," said Merrill, and is his upland bird hunting dog, a role Merrill says the dog relishes as much as he does the DockDog competitions.

"He's a hunting dog first, a DockDog second and he loves all of it," said Merrill.

Merrill said anyone interested in learning more about the sport can visit dockdogs.com or, for the local club, www.seacoastdockdogs.com. He said the sport can be as exciting as a touchdown pass in football or the final lap of a NASCAR race, all with the added element of the human-dog bond.

"Everything's based on your best friend," he said.


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Walker's Auto body denied license renewal

BELMONT – The salvage license of a long-time auto body shop owner and salvage yard operator was denied by selectmen after learning from the town code enforcement officer that owner had not complied with state environmental requests and town requests to do something about the tires on his property.
Code Enforcement Officer Steve Paquin said he had been holding Gordon Walker's license since the beginning of the year. The business is at 130 Depot Road.
"He gets 30 tires a week and gets rid of about 10," said Paquin last night, noting that Walker is no longer doing auto body and only sells used tires for an income.
He told the board he was especially troubled by number of used tires in the back of his lot and the sheer number of them in the front of the building.
Walker was not at Monday's meeting. When reached for contact yesterday morning, Walker said that he thought it was being held last night and not Monday and that's why he didn't attend.
"In my opinion, I've done everything I was told to do," he said.
According to paperwork obtained from the Code Enforcement Office yesterday, on July 9 during its annual check of motor vehicle recycling facilities, the state Department of Environmental Services found that Walker was storing outside some containers of automotive liquids and that he was storing scrap tires in such a manner that water was collecting in them. He was given 45 days to fix the problems. Two follow-up letters, dated Aug. 31 and Nov. 12 and copied to the selectmen noted he was still in violation of best management practices established by the state.
Paquin told selectmen that Walker's shop still sufferes from damage done by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2008 when they raided his home and business on a marijuana warrant and did some significant damage to his shop. Walker was found not guilty on all of the charges.
Walker said yesterday that he has never been able to fix his business and property from the actions of the police seven years ago and that he was just a guy trying to make a living in a business he's been in for over 30 years.


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New Hampton tax rate increases 3.2 percent

NEW HAMPTON — The New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration has set the 2016 property tax rate at $18.19 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 57 cents, or 3.2 percent, over the 2014 rate of $17.62.

That translates to a tax bill of $5,457 for the owner of a property assessed at $300,000, $171 higher than last year's bill of $5,286.

The amount to be raised by property taxes increased by $282,839, or 5.4 percent, from $5,219,640 to $5,502,479. The total assessed valuation grew by $6,556,810, or 2.1 percent, from $303,728,452 to $310,285,262.

The town tax rate increased from $6.34 to $6.51, the local school tax from $7.49 to $8.06, while the state education tax fell from $2.49 to $2.38 and the county tax from $1.30 to $1.24.

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