By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — In the wake of learning that the Portsmouth fire boat will be going to New Castle rather than Gilford, Selectmen's Chairman Richard Grenier went to New Castle's most recent meeting.
His goal, he told his own board last week, is to asked the New Castle Board of Selectmen to consider Gilford should the fire boat not work out for them.
Grenier said he was very well received by the board, which was having a public hearing that evening. He also reported there were a few people in attendance who were not in favor of getting the fire boat.
For a brief time in late April and in early May, it looked as though the fire boat was coming to Gilford. Purchased by Portsmouth using a Homeland Security Grant for $353,000 in 2006, the Portsmouth Fire Department determined that the $15,000 to $20,000 a year to maintain the boat, coupled with the costs of personnel who can navigate it, did not make financial sense for the department. It was rarely used.
Gilford Fire Chief Steve Carrier said he spoke with the Portsmouth Fire Chief Steve Achilles, and told Achilles that if they were giving the boat away, it would be a valuable asset for Gilford as it would be used in lake water, thereby eliminating much of the cost of annual maintenance forced by salt water use. Portsmouth Fire Commissioners originally agreed with Achilles, and Gilford selectmen voted to accept the boat. At the last minute, a movement by some seacoast towns, primarily New Castle, led the Portsmouth City Council to reconsider Gilford in favor of that community.
Grenier said much of the New Castle discussion centered on the Tarbell Fire – the fire on Jan. 23 that leveled the former home of the late seacoast impressionist artist Edmund Tarbell. The home, which had been divided into three apartments, was considered one of the more historic homes in the small community.
Built in 1845, Fosters Daily Democrat reported that Tarbell purchased the home in 1905 and lived there with his family until he died in 1938.
According to Seacoast Online, the fire burned for 12 hours and was fought by firefighters from about 15 coastal towns, including some in Maine. One of the biggest problems firefighters had with the blaze was a lack of water and high winds.
It reported that one of the hydrants near the home was out of order and the since the tide was going out, the water levels in the Piscataqua River were too low to draft water. News articles mentioned eight tankers from different communities shuttled water to the fire.
In the wake of the fire, according to news articles at the time, New Castle voters created a committee to study water availability as it relates to firefighting. The committee supported the acquisition of the fire boat.
At a recent board meeting, Seacoast Online reported that New Castle will use the boat as a backup piece of equipment.
Last week, Grenier said he would also attend a New Castle selectmen's meeting around the time they are preparing the 2017 budget to see if the seaside communities still want it.
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