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Lebanon explores relocating, possibly consolidating, 2 fire stations

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2020 10:14:44 PM
Modified: 2/6/2020 10:14:32 PM

LEBANON — City officials have begun discussing whether to relocate Lebanon’s two full-time fire stations and may consider consolidating them at a larger, more centrally located facility.

The fire stations, long situated on Colburn Park in downtown Lebanon and on Main Street in West Lebanon, are both more than four decades old and are now too small. They “were not designed for the uses they see today,” according to a study of Lebanon’s public safety buildings produced by Manchester-based Lavallee Brensinger Architects and discussed Wednesday night at the City Council meeting.

The study says the combination of modern day fire apparatus being much larger than its counterparts from 1954 and more equipment for fire-based EMS creates a need for more storage.

“The stations are at their space limitations that require firefighters to move through a maze of apparatus, equipment, and other space limiting areas to respond to emergencies,” the study states.

While the preliminary focus was on building two new stations, the study also raised “the possibility of combining the two stations into one larger centrally located fire facility.”

The police station also should be upgraded, but in its current location, the study said.

Lebanon’s downtown fire station, built in 1954, is “very dated” and fails to meet current building standards and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Robert Robicsek, an architect with Lavallee Brensinger Architects, told the City Council.

In addition, he said, the fire station’s nearly 1-acre parcel is too small for expansion and limits operations inside.

The West Lebanon Fire Station, which was built in the early 1970s, faces similar issues sitting on a lot that is less than a quarter-acre and unable to accommodate an expansion, Robicsek said.

The study noted that the “ratio of fire calls to EMS calls has changed over the past 15 years, resulting in higher emergency medical calls for service. Fire calls are remaining stable and in some cases declining.”

The study noted that Lebanon has two urban centers, downtown and in West Lebanon and also has other “target areas” such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Lebanon Municipal Airport.

“The airport brings its own challenges due to the unique hazards that are specific to airports and aircraft. The airport is an important factor to consider when contemplating station location and response to aircraft-related emergencies,” the study said.

Combined response times from the two stations have increased slightly from an average of 5 minutes and 10 seconds in 2014 to 5 minutes and 47 seconds last year, according to the study. The National Fire Protection Association standards call for first responders to respond in 8 minutes or less.

The study did not evaluate Lebanon’s third fire station on Route 4 near the Enfield town line. That 1973 building is unmanned and used for equipment storage.

Space constraints at the fire stations affect how fire officials maintain offices, clean firefighting gear and even park vehicles, Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos told councilors.

Downtown, he said, administrators and fire prevention officials are forced to share offices on the second floor, which isn’t easily accessible to those with disabilities.

“You’re kind of cramming a lot of people in,” Christopoulos said. “It doesn’t leave a lot of privacy to have phone conversations.”

Spacing problems also result in firefighting clothing being stored in cleaning areas. That isn’t ideal when those areas are near backing up diesel trucks and fire engines, he added.

Meanwhile, the consultants found Lebanon’s police station, which was built on Poverty Lane near an Interstate 89 interchange in 1991, in “good overall condition.” However, they warned, it will need to expand by about 65% to meet the department’s needs.

Police Chief Richard Mello described the police station as “bursting at the seams.” He said parking can be challenging, with employees taking up spaces around dumpsters and in fire lanes, and he said some closets are being used as offices.

The police department employs three female officers and only has locker facilities for five, Mello added.

The building study recommends upgrading and expanding the existing police facility rather than starting fresh, because there’s enough room at the roughly 10-acre parcel.

“The site does pose some challenges including its adjacency to the airport zone and notable grade changes,” the study said. “However, the location within the city is appropriate for the PD and offers positive opportunities which we will explore in the next phase of the study.”

City Councilor George Sykes, a former Lebanon deputy fire chief, said Thursday that the downtown fire station has long been considered crowded, but new technology and methods designed to keep first responders safe require even more room.

“We’ve gotten smarter and know there’s a need to separate the fire gear from the rest of the building,” he said, adding fire clothing can pick up cancer-causing carcinogens in the field.

On Wednesday, other councilors said they weren’t surprised to hear the three public safety buildings need upgrades but cautioned staff and architects to be diplomatic moving forward.

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill urged the officials to look for new spaces that both meet the needs of first responders and “tolerance of the community.”

The police station’s move from the basement of City Hall downtown to Poverty Lane caused controversy and faced opposition from neighbors and residents who argued it would be less accessible.

Cost also could be a concern. Lebanon’s School Board is proposing $20.4 million in building upgrades and the city is still paying off bonds on a $75 million sewer project and the new Lebanon Middle School.

Architects say they’ll now work to explore options for both fire stations, design possible plans and produce a final report for the City Council.

That work will focus on finding new homes for both West Lebanon and downtown fire stations separately, they said, adding it could explore the idea of a centrally located station.

A new fire station serving downtown potentially could free up the city to sell the current site, a prime location across the park from City Hall.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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