TILTON — Aging facilities are one reason for upgrading the Northfield fire station and building a new station in Tilton, according to Fire Chief Michael Sitar Jr., but more importantly, an upgrade would allow Tilton-Northfield Fire and EMS to respond more quickly to calls for service.
The fire district that serves the two towns will be trying again for passage of a building project when it meets on March 18 at 7 p.m. in the cafetorium of Winnisquam Regional High School. There will be a bond hearing on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., also at the high school cafetorium.
Fire standards call for reaching 90 percent of the calls within four minutes, but for most of their coverage area the Tilton-Northfield crews require more than twice that amount of time, he said. The building project would triple the area where the department could meet the four-minute response time, Sitar said.
With one-quarter of the two towns’ population over age 60, and 66 percent of the medical transports involving people over 50, being able to quickly respond is critical, Sitar said.
The proposed building project, which has a “not-to-exceed” price of $7.19 million, would include building a new fire station off Manville Road in Tilton and renovating the Park Street station in Northfield. Both facilities would then have space to accommodate fire personnel on a 24/7 basis — something neither station allows at the moment, and part of the reason for the slow response times.
Without the space to house firefighters, the crew has to go and pick up equipment before hitting the road. At the Center Street station in Tilton, trucks have to navigate a narrow street and then try to turn onto Main Street, which can be difficult if vehicles are parked at the intersection. If heading toward Exit 20 of I-93, heavy traffic can be an obstacle.
Then there are the facilities themselves. The Center Street station was built in 1867, with an addition in 1895. The foundation – part brick and part concrete – is crumbling, and the older equipment bay is not level, Sitar said. With no drain, a truck must be washed out on the street, which they can't do during the winter because of icing concerns.
The station also fails to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A steep staircase leads to the office area; there are steps between the rooms; and there is a single bathroom with shower — firefighters returning from a fire and covered with ash and contaminants must walk through the office and break room before washing off.
A new fire station would include decontamination facilities.
Sitar said firefighters have a two-and-a-half-times greater chance of contracting cancer due to the carcinogens to which they are exposed during a fire. While the helmets and breathing apparatus protect their heads, carcinogens can be absorbed through the neck, which tends to be more exposed.
Currently, when they wash their gear, they have to hang it to dry, and that can take days, Sitar said.
Because of the low overhead area, fire apparatus must be specially engineered to fit in the Center Street station, adding to its expense, Sitar said, and there is no room for expansion. The fire station already takes up the entire lot.
As for the Park Street station, it was built in 1986 as a garage and cannot accommodate a round-the-clock crew. It was designed with an addition in mind, but voters have never approved any expansion of the original building. It is where most of the department’s equipment is stored, but there are no living facilities.
Both facilities lack proper and secure storage for medical supplies, which are kept in a small room at the back of the Center Street station.
Tilton-Northfield Fire and EMS has 14 career firefighters, including the chief, along with one and a half administrative staff and and 14 call or part-time members. Of the part-time personnel, six are firefighters, four are EMTs, and five are firefighter/EMTs.
Sitar said there is no affordable land available that is centrally located, but Seven Points Development, which owns the Manville Road property, is offering to subdivide a lot just across the railroad spur, and sell it to the department for only $1, provided that it be used only for a fire station.
Manville Road would have to be improved to provide proper access to the lot, and utilities would have to be brought in, bringing off-site improvements to $595,000, Sitar said.
The chief said the department can apply $294,700 from the land and building fund, $186,620 from the apparatus and equipment fund, and $10,000 from the fire prevention fund to lower the project’s cost to taxpayers. They are looking at a 20-year bond of $6.7 million to complete the project.
In an attempt to keep the project cost as low as possible, the department is using a construction management approach, using Warrenstreet Architects of Concord and Bonnette Page and Stone Corporation of Laconia to oversee the work.
Acknowledging that the project may be a hard sell, particularly for those on fixed incomes — Sitar calculated that it would cost of 51 cents per day for a $250,000 home, or 21 cents per day per person — the chief said, “The people on fixed incomes are the people we serve the most.”
The scope of the project has not changed since it was rejected by voters two years ago, when the cost was estimated at $5 million, and Sitar said, “If we put it off, it’ll cost more in the end.”