Litchfield Fire Department Grows along with the Flourishing Community

January 5, 2018

 

courtesy of Rich Lascelles

The Litchfield Fire Department was established in 1946 to meet the needs of the bucolic little farming community that was Litchfield.

What little equipment the department possessed was stored at individual firefighter’s homes strategically located at three separate sites along Charles Bancroft Highway. Apparatus was located in the south end at the Broadview Farm (near Wilson’s Farm); in the center of town at the French household near the Griffin Memorial School, and in the north end at the Litchfield Garage near Robyn Avenue.   When the first fire truck was purchased in 1949, it was housed at the garage for a fee of $240 per year. Robert Jerry and his son Richard, owners of the garage who both served as fire chief, cut up 15 cords of wood each year to heat the garage and keep the truck from freezing. At that time Litchfield had only about 400 people who lived predominantly within a half mile of the Merrimack River. Page Road, Pinecrest, and Hillcrest were the only streets of any significance off Charles Bancroft Highway and they were not paved!

In 1954, the construction of a centralized fire station was discussed, but it was not until 1957 that a building committee made up of Leon Calawa, Jr., Eugene Pelkey, and George Adams was formed with the task of coming up with a plan to bring the department into the 20th Century with its first dedicated building. Land was purchased in the center of town next to the town hall and Community Church for the site. Very little money was allocated for the building. The firemen volunteered to construct the building utilizing donated materials. Fred McQuesten donated the sand and gravel for the concrete foundation and slab. George Adams donated the use of two cement mixers. Sterling Colby donated lumber for the project with the stipulation that it be sawed from his Litchfield forest. Firefighters gathered and volunteered their time every Saturday and Sunday to cut down the trees and haul it to the saw mill to be made into building lumber. The mill was paid in extra felled trees for all the building material.

Construction of the firehouse was completed over a two-year period from 1957-1959. The station was built entirely with volunteer labor, donated materials, and monies from fundraisers held around town. No money was raised through town meetings or by taxation. While the fire station didn’t cost the taxpayer a single cent, it was given as a gift to the Town of Litchfield from the men and women of the fire department. By the summer of 1959, the fire station was completed and the firefighting equipment moved to the new building.

When it was originally built the building was limited to a two-bay heated garage and just enough extra space to keep firefighting equipment. By the time the building was finished the town had grown to 427 souls.

As time went on more fire apparatus was needed to help protect the community. In the late ‘60s the rear wall of the station was knocked out and moved back. During this time period, the town purchased the first new-from-the-factory fire truck and a 1967 International was placed in service.

By 1970 the population of the town had grown significantly to about 1,400, but there was still only one school, Griffin Memorial, and most of the people lived along the Charles Bancroft Highway.

In the decade of the ‘70s, Litchfield was the fastest growing town in the State of New Hampshire. Neighborhoods sprang up off Pinecrest, Hillcrest, and Page Road. Albuquerque Avenue was in its infancy, but more new neighborhoods were being built to accommodate the demand for housing. By 1980 the population had ballooned to 4,150 and the public school population was increasing at between 5 and 10 percent per year.

In March of 1979, a second addition was added to the fire department building. This addition was to the rear of the building allowing for much-needed garage space for a large forestry/tanker truck and a small forestry pick-up truck to respond out of two new rear doors that face north and south. The addition was needed and built in anticipation of a much-needed new Engine-1 which had been approved by voters at the previous town meeting. This addition was also constructed at no cost to the town. A local business donated the cement blocks and Rick Charbonneau agreed to do the site work. The firefighters and other local volunteers again gave their time to build the one-story addition. The department was able to find and acquire two used glass overhead doors to complete the project in the back of the fire station.

March of 1986 saw the approval of the first two full-time firefighter/EMTs to cover the town during the day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. The firefighters worked out of a small radio room adjacent to the apparatus bays. The population in town in 1986 was 4,418 residents. Griffin Memorial School served grades first through eighth with approximately 300-400 students. High school students were bused out of town to either attend Hudson or Manchester schools. The fire department responded to 198 fire and medical calls during that year.

By this time the population of the town had shifted. It was no longer concentrated along Route 3A. Most people now lived in neighborhoods close to Albuquerque. Average response times from the fire station on Charles Bancroft Highway to the section of Albuquerque/Talent Road ranged anywhere from nine minutes to as much as 12 minutes to the farthest point on Route 102 at the Hudson town line. Most firefighters also now lived farther away from the station which increased response times.

In 1986, the fire chief asked the town for $25,000 for preliminary design and site work to build a two-bay fire sub-station in the south end of town on Talent Road. The warrant article for the construction money to build the fire station came the following year in 1987. The request for a bond for $244,000 for the construction of the building failed by eight votes.

In 1988 the town built its second school, Litchfield Middle School. Many townspeople attributed the failure of the 1986 warrant article for the fire station to the impending need for the middle school.

In 1989, a second request was made with two warrant articles, one for the design, the second for construction of the new station. A small two-bay fire sub-station was on the town ballot, this was the first time both the selectmen and budget committee formally approved and recommended construction. The proposed cost for the project was $350,000. The warrant article for the fire sub-station failed getting the two-third majority needed to pass. By 1990 the population had climbed to over 5,500.

Litchfield was not alone in its growth during this period. All the southern tier of New Hampshire was also experiencing high growth. Until this time Litchfield had sent all its high school students to either Hudson (Alvirne) or Manchester Memorial. By the late ‘90s Litchfield was told by both Alvirne and Memorial they could not accommodate Litchfield students. In 1999, Litchfield approved a high school bond issue and Campbell High opened in 2000. St. Francis of Assisi Church and School also relocated to Litchfield and opened in 2000.

A new fire station was talked about multiple times over the next several years but due to poor economic conditions the fire station was again tabled. For many years the thought was to have two fire stations serve the town. Proposals were made, and warrant articles were presented but none were passed.

In 2008, 2004 plans were updated, adding truck bays to the plan for a single fire station to be located near the town hall/police station located on Albuquerque Avenue by Liberty Way. A single station, centrally located with respect to population and firefighter residence to minimize response time, was now proposed as the best solution for the town.

In July of 2016, SFC Engineering and Warren Street Architects conducted a feasibility study of the current fire station on Charles Bancroft Highway. That study found that renovating the current 50-year old building and adding a modest addition to support the fire department’s needs could cost $2 million or more for a structure no larger than 8,000 square feet.

Today Litchfield has almost 9,000 residents. That population continues to grow with new development. On any given day, our town now has about 1,900 students in grades K-12 in four schools. In addition, almost ten over-55 communities have located in town. These communities require more health-related calls for the department. In 2017, the department responded to about 650 calls, a far cry from the 35 calls the department had in 1957 when the current station was built.

In 2017, the Nashua Regional Planning Commission used software to build multiple data maps in support of a new centrally located fire station. One map compares the existing fire station on Charles Bancroft Highway and the proposed fire station on Albuquerque Avenue by Liberty Way. The map depicts response times and area coverage from both the existing building and the new proposed station.

In March, the town will vote on the proposed station large enough to house all of the department’s apparatus and equipment. The proposed fire station is 12,563 square feet with five double deep apparatus bays. The station has been designed to meet all the department’s needs today and for the future. The location of the proposed station will allow direct access onto Albuquerque Avenue just south of Liberty Way.

The proposed fire station would provide twice the area coverage that the current station does now and would cover most of the town in a four to five-minute response time once the trucks leave the station. A second map was created depicting where firefighters and medical personnel currently live. As Litchfield is predominanty an on-call fire department with two full-time people during the weekdays, response time to the fire station nights and weekends is critical. Most of the firefighters and medical personnel live in the center of town closer to the proposed fire station. On average, the majority of the personnel would save between one to four minutes getting to the proposed fire station, which, when added to the response time, would save precious minutes getting to an emergency.

Key Dates

Budget Public Hearing: Jan. 11

Deliberative Session: Feb. 3

Town Vote: March 13

For more information about the Litchfield Fire Department and the proposed new station go to https://litchfieldfirestation.com or talk to any firefighter.