Charlestown fire department seeks $3.5 million bond for new station

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 03-07-2024 8:00 PM

CHARLESTOWN — A petitioned article for a new fire station on this year’s Town Meeting warrant would kick off replacement of a building that is far beyond its useful life, according to the Charlestown fire chief.

Waiting longer will only lead to higher construction costs, Charlestown Fire Chief Mark LaFlam said.

The $3.5 million bond, which will need 60% approval for passage, instructs the town to seek grants and other potential funding sources to reduce the amount needed for bonding.

“I’m hoping it passes as a starting point,” LaFlam said. “You can’t design a building without land and you can’t buy land unless you have money to spend on the land.”

A new location has not been identified, the chief said.

The article is not recommended by either the Selectboard or finance committee.

“They say the town can’t afford it,” LaFlam said.

Selectboard Chairman Jeremy Wood did not respond to a message left for him at the town office.

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LaFlam said the station on Main Street next to the police station is nearly 50 years old, which, he said, is twice the length of time it was designed to last. A few years ago voters defeated an article to spend $500,000 on improvements to the building.

“It is so far behind the times,” LaFlam said. “We don’t have a ventilation system for exhaust so all the fumes from the vehicles go right into the building and into the gear we wear. We don’t have a washing machine that can get all the contaminants out of the gear.”

The fire station also lacks a place for decontamination, LaFlam said.

“If we were to get into a hazmat (hazardous material) situation we should be going back and taking a shower. Instead, we carry all those chemicals home to our families.”

The station on Main Street has five bays for six trucks and measures about 60 by 80 feet. LaFlam thinks they need a bigger building especially if at some point the town decides to provide a fire-based EMS service.

Presently, the fire department has a rescue squad with trained medical personnel to treat people before Golden Cross Ambulance arrives from Claremont to transport the patient. The fire department started the service after Charlestown terminated its ambulance service a few years ago.

LaFlam said overall the department responded to nearly 500 calls last year. Charlestown is an all-volunteer department but the chief, assistant chief and captain receive a stipend while the firefighters are paid when on a call.

Last year, voters defeated a petition article to have firefighters elect the chief instead of being appointed by the Selectboard.

LaFlam said he has not heard talk around town whether residents favor or oppose the bond but said he thinks the cost to taxpayers can be reduced with grants, including from the USDA Rural Development program.

“It needs to happen and the problem is the costs are never going to go down,” LaFlam said. “Everyone admits it has to happen but it is to a point that we have waited so long, they say it is too expensive. The cost is going to continue to climb.”

Ballot voting will take place on Tuesday, March 12 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Charlestown Senior Center, 233 Old Springfield Rd.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.