Fire Department Holds Annual Open House

by Lauren Danzi

Litchfield Fire Department teams up with a few Hudson firefighters to demonstrate how they would put out a propane fire, during their annual Fire Department’s Open House.

As National Fire Prevention week came to an end last Sunday, the Litchfield Fire Department held their annual open house where they demonstrated how to put out a propane fire and operate the Jaws of Life.  There were fire truck rides for kids and adults, face painting, hot dogs and hamburgers, baked goods for sale, and a quilt raffle for the neighboring Litchfield Community church.  Kids hugged Smokey the Bear and could pick up free wrist bands, frisbees, rulers, magnets, pencils, and Smokey the Bear comics.  Adults volunteered to learn how to operate the Jaws of Life and travel through an obstacle course full of smoke.

To prepare for the obstacle course, firefighters helped adults put on real firefighting equipment including heavy pants, jackets, a mask, regulator, and oxygen tank.  They explained how the equipment worked, testing the seal on the mask by momentarily holding a hand over the regulator opening and asking if the volunteer could breathe.  If they could not breathe, it meant the seal was secure and would protect against smoke seeping in from the sides of the mask.  Once the equipment was secure, the volunteer entered a trailer full of non-lethal smoke followed by a trained firefighter.  They had to be careful to keep their hands on a fire hose while crawling in the dark trailer past furniture and through a tunnel.  Although told repeatedly that nothing in the trailer would hurt them, adults could not help but feel nervous as they put on unfamiliar cumbersome equipment and crawled through the dark smoke-filled space. 

Once safely outside, firefighters asked adults what they thought and explained how the added heat and the threat of falling objects intensifies the fear.  One of them added that most homes are not as clean as the obstacle course so firefighters have the added challenge of navigating around lots of clutter on the floor.

Edward Farnham, Litchfield’s newest volunteer firefighter, navigated the course while blindfolded.  He has only been with the fire department for a few months and plans to go to the firefighting academy.  He praised the Litchfield Fire Department saying “Every one of these guys is so helpful to me!”  Going on, he said that each of them had their own jobs and families, and he felt he could bring any one of them home to meet his own family.  “It’s fun when you get to help someone!” said Farnham, who explained that they don’t just put out fires but also respond to medical calls and other emergencies.

Later, Litchfield Fire Department along with a few Hudson firefighters lit and put out a propane fire.  The heat from the flames could be felt from behind the caution tape where spectators stood.  Two teams operated two fire hoses.  One put out the fire and another backed them up spraying the surrounding area to protect it from burning.  The team of five firefighters carried a hose blasting the flames with water.  They cautiously approached the fire.  After about a minute, the flames appeared to go out.  “Even though it looks out, its not,” said Fire Chief Thomas Schofield who explained step by step what the team was doing.  He explained that even though this was a controlled setting this fire was still dangerous.  The team continued to dump water on the fire until long after it went out.  Schofield explained that the firefighters needed to continue to protect themselves using water even as they backed away from the remains of the fire because the area was so hot it could reignite.  Schofield felt this demonstration was important.  “We have about 4,000 homes in Litchfield, and I can’t think of one of them that doesn’t have a gas grill.”

The Salem Fire Department brought a safety house – a trailer where they talked to kids about fire prevention.  They showed them a stove with a pot handle facing out, and asked them what they should do about it.  “What would you do if something in the pot was on fire?”  Jeff Emanalson from Salem’s Fire Department asked a group of kids.  One boy suggested putting water on it, but Emanalson explained that is exactly the opposite of what someone would want to do because if it is a grease fire the water would just spread the flames around.  Kids were taught how to test a closed door to see if there was fire on the other side, and they could practice calling 911 talking with a person who responded just like a real 911 operator.  In one section of the trailer they demonstrated how a sprinkler system works by lighting a T-shirt on fire and watching how quickly the sprinklers put it out.  Emanalson from the Salem Fire Department explained that as long as sprinkler systems have been in homes and businesses there has never been a fire with multiple fatalities.

Even while discussing serious dangers of fires, firefighters were friendly and everyone enjoyed themselves.  Many youngsters wore firefighter outfits to show their support of Litchfield Volunteer firefighters.  Kids enjoyed riding on fire trucks, getting their faces painted, and learning about fire prevention.  Adults learned about the challenges of being a firefighter and got to see firefighters and equipment in action.

Jack Goulet, 4, poses in front of a Salem fire truck at the Litchfield Fire Department’s Open House.

Litchfield firefighters show Litchfield residents how to operate the Jaws of Life which saves lives after traffic accidents.

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Long Term Plans for Alvirne Includes New Auditorium

by Lauren Danzi

Superintendent Randy Bell and School Committee Chairman David Alukonis presented the early stages of a new plan for Alvirne High School at a Friends of Music meeting.  They discussed the long-term goals of the school and presented two options, which included plans for a new auditorium.  

Neither of the plans discusses cost because they are in the first stages of the project.  The ideas have been determined to be feasible but no real architectural plans have been drawn up for either idea.  Both plans include a new Gym, ball fields, Auditorium and addition to the vocational center.  They also include plans for tighter security by locating the main office near the current location of the cafeteria. 

Proposed Option A layout for the Alvirne property.

Option A calls for building a free standing auditorium with its own parking lots on the other side of  Route 102 across from the school.  This land would use a small amount of forestry land, which would reduce the amount from 88 to 81 acres.  Bell felt there would still be plenty of room for the forestry vocation.  There is a possibility of creating a tunnel underneath route 102 from the school to the auditorium.  Questions were raised about a bridge instead.  Bell explained that generally tunnels are more inexpensive to build and maintain.  The new auditorium would also include space for band and music classes with the possibility of holding art classes as well. 

The other plan, Option B, includes most of the same changes but would have the auditorium attached to the current building.  The Auditorium would be placed in the location of the future Gym and the Gym would be placed where the tennis courts are now.  New tennis courts would be built. Instead of a new Auditorium across the street, additional parking would be built because the new addition of the gym in this plan would cut into existing parking lots.  This plan could also include a tunnel from the parking lot to main building. 

The auditorium being considered for both options is the same size, holding 900 seats but a little different shape because it must be joined to the building.  They chose to plan for 900 seats because anything higher puts the building in a new bracket for safety and fire code restrictions, which would cost more money.  The consensus was an auditorium with 1500 seats would not be practical for the size of Hudson’s community because it would rarely be filled to capacity.  

The Friends of Music members raised questions about the advantages of having a separate Auditorium.  “It would look like a Community Building,” said Bell.  This would be and advantage because the Auditorium could be used for outside events.  Both Bell and Alukonis felt that the building would generate revenue for the school, though not necessarily profit. Another question was raised about what to call the building.  Some Friends of Music members felt that Auditorium sounded like an antiquated room; like something out of the 50’s.  There was a suggestion to call the building a performing arts center.  Either way, the building whether attached to the school or free standing, will be equipped with new technology and allow space for band and music classrooms. 

Bell and Alukonis stressed that this plan is still in the long-term stages and at the earliest they were looking at 2010 for getting funding and 2011 to start building.  They could not answer which long term plan for the school was cheaper because it would be difficult to predict cost of construction that far into the future.  They were looking at hiring an economist to come in and look at enrollment numbers of Hudson’s schools but the general sense is the population of students is decreasing so they don’t anticipate needing more classroom space.

“People who know me from the School Board, Budget Committee, Central Office, Administration, Staff, Community people, and students know my passion about having an auditorium,” said Director of Music Gerry Bastien.  He feels that there was much work left to be done regarding the two options and was unsure which he preferred.  As the project continues he will continue to support the project and talk with other stakeholders because the auditorium would be of use to the school district and Hudson community.  He believed that Friends of Music could act as a liaison to other groups to help educate them on the advantages.  “Friends of Music is excited about this project.  When the time comes the organization will be there to help in every facet.”

Proposed Option B layout for the Alvirne property.

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Code Enforcement Officer Position Cut

by Tom Tollefson

The Hudson Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to cut the position of code enforcement officer in the Community Development Department at their budget presentation on Monday, October 15.  This motion saved a total of $75,000 from the budget, which included $50,000 for the position and $25,000 in benefits. 

“I look at this report for code enforcement and of the 15 items that are on for September, three of them are picking up signs that we could have the highway department do in a heartbeat.  That means 12 action items that were on this list(for) the entire month,” said Selectman Richard Maddox, who made the original motion for the reduction. 

Sean Sullivan added, “For folks who aren’t in the building business we try to enlighten them and tell them when they’re wrong and approve a permit when we know they’re right.”

Maddox also stated that the building inspector should be able to handle the 12 additional action items.

Code enforcement made 147 actions this past year with two pending court cases, and one site walk scheduled.  Two cases were brought to court with one resulting in conformance and the other in the process of filing an application site plan approval with the planning board.

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Judge Rules against Town Officials’ Request

by Drew Caron

A Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge has ruled against the Town of Litchfield’s motion to dismiss the petition filed by Police Chief Joe O’Brion in his pursuit of recovering lost wages and employment benefits resulting from his 15-day suspension last summer.

In a motion filed in late September, the Town of Litchfield sought to dismiss the pending petition because the petition asked for Chief O’Brion’s reinstatement from termination with the town.  However, the town’s petition claimed the Chief of Police was never terminated, but only suspended.  In the town’s eyes, O’Brion’s petition should have been dismissed because he was not terminated.

According to the judge’s ruling, the petition from the chief is replete with numerous references to the fact that he was challenging his suspension from duty and that references to his termination came in the last paragraph of the petition was, in fact, an inadvertent error resulting from the use of a prior petition as a template.

“The approach to allowing amendments in this state is a liberal one which reflects the desire not to permit procedural error or omission to frustrate the maintenance of a valid action.”  The ruling stated and further added that the town must stretch far in its effort to mischaracterize.

The ruling went on to say that the petition, with the exception of the one word in the last paragraph, asserts a cause of action to reverse the effects of an improper suspension and, to the extent that there is any plausible doubt, the town could have referred to the specific notice of disciplinary action that was attached to the petition.

The ruling enforced both the town’s position and the argument by O’Brion’s counsel that O’Brion was not terminated last summer but only suspended for 15 working days. 

The judge concluded his decision stating that allegations of pleading are sufficiently clear if they can be understood by court and counsel.

“Surely the town officers and their counsel cannot, with straight faces, claim the petition could not be understood by them,” the judge ruled.

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Tax Rate Decreases by Nearly 13 Percent

by Tom Tollefson

The Board of Selectmen has authorized using $1.45 million of Hudson’s $6.65 million surplus in support of a tax rate of $15.01 per thousand, as recommended by Finance Director Kathy Carpentier.  This tax rate, for 2007, represents a 12.8 percent decrease over last year’s rate of $17.22 per thousand.

“I think we have to be careful that we don’t over sale what we are looking at.  If anybody wants to call me, I’ll be glad to explain the details.  Even though we’re showing a 12.8 percent reduction in the tax rate that does not translate to a 12.8 percent reduction in anyone’s tax bill because the $15.01 is derived from the property evaluation of $2,856,000,” Selectman Ken Massey said.

According to Carpentier, the property re-evaluations revealed that Hudson’s values went up by $355 million, which is one of the main reasons why the tax rate is decreasing to $2.22.

“By using this amount of surplus, we would still be within the recommended 5-10 percent of gross appropriations, which should be kept in your surplus.  This would leave us 5.1, a little over $1 million in surplus,” Carpentier said.

She also reported that a residential sales analysis pointed to an average increase of 11 percent in single family homes. 

If the town gets more revenue than expected, the BOS has agreed to use fewer surpluses instead of reducing the tax rate.

Selectman Richard Maddox stated his concern for the 7.9 surplus percent retained.  Chairman Shawn Jasper mentioned it was the lowest since 2000 when it stood at 6.3 percent.  Last year the surplus percent was 9.2 percent.

“7.9 is still a fairly comfortable percent, but when you look at the dollar value our budget is going up and our actual dollars in the bank are going down; that is not a good situation,” Jasper said.

Massey brought up the fact that $1.175 million of the surplus was used last year compared to the $1.45 million this year. 

“If we were to use the same as last year, that would be a decrease of 275,000, which would be a nine and a half cent increase changing it from 15.01 to 15.10,” he explained.

The motion to move forward with the tax rate was moved by Selectman Doug Robinson and seconded by Selectman Ben Nadeau, 4-1, with Maddox in objection. 

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