Transformation of the Lenny Smith Station has Begin

May 27, 2016


by Kaylee Murphy

Following the voters’ approval of the warrant article in the town elections in March 2015, Hudson Fire Department staff has been planning and working out details of the rehabilitation of the 65-year-old Leonard Smith Central Fire Station into a contemporary home for Hudson fire.  While it may not be as state of the art as a brand-new building would be, it will serve the town well into the mid-21st century.

Under the direction of Chief Buxton, many of the firefighters have been involved in the planning process, but the primary effort has been in the hands of Captain James Paquette and Hudson Building Inspector David Hebert.  From the original conceptual plans that the voters saw and the original drawing that Lenny Smith had drafted by hand in 1952, which his daughter found when cleaning his home office and gave to the fire department, the firefighters have been crawling into ceilings in order to give the engineers and designers the most accurate description of this structure as possible.  The professional firm handling the final plans is Port One Architects.

When the construction bids are opened on June 2 everyone believes that this project will still be within budget even with the more detailed new plans; the warrant article restricted the costs to $900,000.  The hope is to start renovations during the summer.  About 95 percent of the demolition work that has occurred inside the building has been done by firefighters.  Their primary goals are addressing life safety issues, making the building more handicap accessible, reducing operating costs and their carbon footprint, and increasing space.  Their intent is to accomplish all of this while keeping the historical look of the building and the superstructure of the 1952 building as well as the 1974 addition.

The building itself is structurally sound.  It used to house the board of selectmen’s office and the dispatch center, as well as the fire department.  The goal is to have the renovations last for the next 60 years.

Except for changing the apparatus doors and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) ramp, the citizens won’t see most of the work as it is all inside the station.  Other changes to the exterior part of the building will be the redressed landscaping.  When renovating a 60-year-old building it’s important to maintain the historical look of the outside of the station.  The original fire pole on the inside of the building will remain; historically it was used for firefighters to get to the apparatus floor from dormitories and second-floor operations area.  It is rumored that in the left bottom corner of the front of the building, behind the gray cement block that has 1952 engraved on it, there is a time capsule.

Chief Buxton was very non-committed if the cement block will be removed during the renovations.

Watch as the apparatus doors are changed as they currently are not tall enough for the size of the new equipment.  In 1952, apparatuses were smaller in height; as time progressed they have grown taller.  Hudson had to have their current ladder truck custom-made to fit in the station; conversationally, that adjustment cost an additional $150,000.   During the service of the ladder truck throughout the town, many fixes and adjustments have had to be made to the truck, most likely due to its one-of-a-kind fabrication.  The newest ambulance that was just put into service is too tall for central station and operates out of the Robinson Road station.

The new doors will need to be larger than the current door as the new opening will be taller.  The roll-up doors take about 27 seconds to open, and, if new roll-ups were put in, the motors to open these doors would need to be installed into the ceilings to get the clearance they needed.  As an alternative, the firefighters searched the internet and found apparatus doors that open left and right to the side of the door.  These different doors would take seven seconds to open and seven seconds to close, which means it will be three and a half times faster.  The ceilings would not be affected, and the new doors would offer other advantages.  While the new doors will be more efficient they will closely resemble the look of the original building.  Captain Paquette explained how much safer it will be for the engine driver to be sure the doors are completely open before he move the truck as currently the driver has to lean forward and look through the top of the windshield.  The less time the doors are open the more that the fire department will save on heating in the winter.  The new doors will also be insulated.  With more glass on the doors they can use more natural light instead of the overhead light.  When thinking about energy consumption, the renovation design also shows switching to LED lights and sensors throughout the building to save on energy consumption.

The addition between the original fire department and the town hall, which was built in 1974, will also have the new sliding side way doors and new lighting.  The usable apparatus space will increase as the physical therapy room and other makeshift rooms that took up space on the ground floor will be moved to the second floor.

Life safety is one important issue that the fire department will address.  Currently the fire station isn’t up to town code with its fire alarm system and does not have a sprinkler system.  There is also no means of secondary egress for the staff on the second floor.  With the new plans the secondary means of egress will come from the new stairs, which will run along the back of the station.  Captain Paquette notes, while reviewing the plans, that the fire station and really all town buildings should follow and abide by the same rules and regulations as commercial and residential buildings in Hudson.

Security is another life safety issue.  While the first floor of the station is monitored by security cameras there is no physical control.  Currently, someone could run from the front door to the second floor employee space unobstructed or slip into the apparatus bay as a truck leaves.  If an individual really wanted to, the person could do a lot of damage to the fire station that could, in turn, affect the whole town in terms of emergency response.  As the front area becomes accessible to the public for business with the department installing security door on the first floor as well as the second floor, this would only allow someone into the hallway and up and down the stairs.  The plan is to have an accessible spot for the public where they can talk to the dispatcher or meet with the duty captain for information or follow up.

Besides security concerns, the building is not handicap accessible.  Currently, any person in a wheelchair has to come to the outside window and be helped that way if they want a burning permit.  With the new plans, an ADA ramp and handicap self-opening doors will be installed.  This way people using wheelchairs can get their burning permits in the building and handle other business with the department, which sometimes now is transacted through an outside window.

National studies have shown that the cancer rate for firefighters is 34 percent higher than that of the general public.  Some of that is due to the exposure to chemicals from fire scenes and other life safety events the firefighter is exposed to, yet this is compounded by the poor handling and storage of the protective clothing.  It’s important that their turnout gear is properly washed, stored and ventilated.  Gear in the current Lenny Smith building is hung along the apparatus walls of the station where exposure to the sun can cause the clothes to discolor and shorten their lifecycle.  Exposure to exhaust and chemicals can also damage the equipment.  Typically, the clothing has a 10-year shelf life.  As part of the remodeling, a designated room with lockers will house the gear.

Inside the building there are water stains on the ceiling and black smudges on the wall that can’t be removed.  Exhaust is the suspected cause of the black smudges.  The kitchen was built in 1952 and it’s the kitchen that they still use today.  The kitchen has been flagged for 15 years.  Parts of the kitchen have become not fixable and some parts are inoperable.  A new kitchen will be built.

During the renovations, the fire department will still be operational 24/7.  Currently in Hudson there are 36 uniform firefighters, four dispatchers and five administrators among all three buildings.  It’s important that the employees who work there for 24 straight hours function in conditions that are up to current standards.  For the staff it really is a second home because they spend so much time there.

Phasing of the project is important because they need to still stay operational 24/7.  They have already begun cleaning out the building in order to get ready for the construction and have thrown out a total of five dumpsters worth of materials; these were carefully examined to ensure that nothing historical or useful would accidentally be thrown out.  Now the walls are down to the original cement block walls

The new plan calls for a total of six dormitory rooms.  Staff members will be assigned one person per room per shift, which is pretty normal for the industry.  It’s important that the staff can have some privacy and some separation from coworkers.  Currently the dining room and the meeting area are one and the same while the new plans call for a separate meeting room.

While it seems that it has been a long time in the planning, the process from the conceptual plans everyone saw in March of 2015 to the plans with bids to be opened on June 2, this remodeled station will better serve the town, meet the needs of the public, and offer a safe and updated home for the firefighters.