Rescues in Icy Situations

by Lynne Ober

What would you do if you saw someone fall through the ice on a pond?  Many of us would call 911, who, in turn, would call the local fire department to start a rescue mission.  If you fall through the ice in Pelham, you will be blessed with a full cadre of trained people who can come to the rescue. 

Pelham Fire Department recently held ice rescue training at Camp Runnels.  The departments training committee, under the guidance of Lieutenant Jim Midgeley, created the exercises.  More than 30 people trained for 8 1/2 hours.  According to Fire Chief Michael Walker, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members as well as Medical Reserve Corps members trained side-by-side with fire department staff.  We trained them in auxiliary tasks and they made an impressive contribution, said Walker.

The department coupled three types of training into one exercise.  That was important because we can maximize our training dollars, said Walker.  There was a section on anatomy and physiology, which provided training for EMTs as well as an opportunity to use the incident management system.  Adding those two components provided a wider breadth of training, said Walker, who credited Midgeley with putting together the scenarios.

This was surface ice training.  Last year the department held diving under ice training.  We do something yearly.  Theres a lot of water in Pelham and we have actually had a call this year, said Walker.  Using the cold-water suits, men and women learned how to safely rescue someone who has fallen through the ice.  Certified ice rescue instructors conducted the training, taught everyone about techniques and tools.  Walker cited national standards, objectives and best practices for ice rescue.

The training committee had developed different scenarios and rescues were done under each of the scenarios.  Walker noted that the Medical Reserve Corps checked for hypothermia, worked on our rescued victims and participated in all phases.

Earlier this winter, a car flipped into one of the streams that feed Harris Pond.  After the driver was rescued, the men used the cold-water suits and went into the water to mitigate the oil and gas that was leaking into the water.  At that point, it became a hazmat effort because we didnt want gas and oil pollution spreading into the pond, said Walker.  Many times the various types of training are used together.  Thats why I was very pleased with the scenario approach that was used with our ice rescue training. 

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Middle Schoolers Get Virtual Tour of High School

by Lynne Ober

Principal Kori Brecht talked to eighth graders about the upcoming virtual tour of the new Windham High School.

Through the magic of technology, Windham Middle School students got to “walk through Windham High School halls” last week.

Windham Middle School Principal Kori Brecht introduced the virtual tour of Windham’s High School to students during their extended lunch period.  Even though students cannot currently visit the site because it is a construction zone, software brought both interior and exterior views of the school to the students who watched with wonder.

“You are the class of 2012,” School Board Chairman Al Letizio told eighth grade students.  “You will be the first graduating class from Windham High School.”

Dr. Frank Bass, Superintendent, told the students that he wanted to share his excitement about the new high school.  He introduced members of the school board and staff from Lavalee/Brensinger Architects who had created and would run the virtual tour.

Windham High School Principal Richard Manley talked to the students about what made him excited to be with them.  “I have the opportunity to be the principal of the best high school in New Hampshire.”  He urged the students to get all they could from the middle school and to look forward to the new, state-of-the-art high school.  He talked about areas where only a foreign language would be spoken and about state-of-the-art science labs that would allow students to touch and feel science.  “My goal is for each and every one of you to be involved in your high school beyond academics.  I want you to think about how you can be connected to your high school, your principal, and your classmates.”

Then it was time for the tour.  Students got to walk up to the front door, which opened and invited them inside.  Once inside, the architects took them on a virtual tour of their new high school.  They walked down halls to the art room, into the auditorium, to the science labs, and out onto the athletic facilities.  They went everywhere.

Owner’s Rep Glenn Davis was in attendance.  He said that the three story building was closed in and the two story building was in the process of being closed in.  “On bad days we can still work inside.  We are on schedule and on budget,” he grinned. 

Glenn said they had used all of the material on site, which is a green construction technique, and had even screened the loam used for the fields.  “We’ve sent soil samples out and will soon know if we need amendments to the soil.”  They have also used T-5 lighting which will make the district eligible for an energy credit from PSHN.  “We are working for energy rebates,” Glenn said, who is obviously not only enjoying his job but also looking out for the best interests of the Windham taxpayer.

Throughout the virtual tour of the high school, you could hear a pin drop as students were quietly engrossed in seeing their next school.  The architects were able to talk to the students in a way that brought them right into the school.

“I’ve never seen such a quiet lunch period,” laughed school board member Barbara Coish, who was delighted at the students’ intense interest in their new high school.

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Selectmen Recommend Contracts With Town Employees

by Barbara O'Brien

Selectmen are unanimously recommending the approval of proposed contracts with town employees, including police, fire and municipal departments.  Voters will have their say on Election Day, Tuesday, March 11.

Article 6, which refers to the proposed contract with union members of the Windham Police Department, asks taxpayers to raise and appropriate the sum of $275,425, representing the cost of increased economic benefits for members of Local (Police) Union 3657 to which they are slated for the years 2006 to 2008.

The proposed contract is retroactive to 2006, due to the failure of prior negotiations.  In 2007, a fact finder's report failed to gain sufficient union support and, subsequently, negotiations resumed.  The cost to be paid retroactively to April 1, 2006 totals $39,880; for 2007 the amount is $113,650.  The cost for 2008 is $145,080; for 2009 is $53,890; and $14,580 for the first three months of 2010.

Selectmen said that the proposed contract is a win-win situation for both the town and the police union and urge residents to support it on Election Day.  The proposal includes a 3.3 percent cost of living adjustment, as well as a partial employee contribution toward health insurance premiums.  That contribution will increase to a maximum 20 percent of the premium in 2009.

The proposed police union contract, if approved by voters, will expire on March 31, 2010.

Article 7 is in regard to the proposed three-year contract with members of Local (Fire) Union 2915. Selectmen are also unanimously supporting this proposal, which asks voters to raise and appropriate $29,630 for 2008 (beginning April 1); $27,720 for 2009; and $29,470 for 2010; plus $6,830 for the first three months of 2011.  The proposed contract is set to expire on March 31, 2011.

The proposed contract with the fire union includes a cost of living adjustment of 2 to 4 percent, as well as a partial employee payment of health insurance premiums, with a cap of 20 percent as of April 1, 2009.

The third proposed contract to be considered by voters on March 11 is the one pertaining to municipal (union) employees.  The municipal union (#1801) contract is proposed for a two-year period, commencing April 1, 2008 and ending on March 31, 2010.  The proposed cost to taxpayers would be $26,510 in 2008; $31,810 in 2009; and $9,200 for the first three months of 2010.  This proposed contract also includes partial payment of health insurance premiums, also up to a cap of 20 percent on April 1, 2009.  One other stipulation included in the municipal union proposal is the official establishment of a drug free workplace, based on conditions approved by selectmen late last year.  Selectmen are also in unanimous support of this proposed contract.

One other article also pertains to these proposed union contracts.  Article 9 allows for town officials to hold one Special Town Meeting in the event that any of the three proposed union contracts are defeated by voters in March.  Such a Special Town Meeting would be for proposed "cost items" only and would not be for adjusting other clauses included in proposed contracts.  This special meeting would prevent the affected union(s) from taking the case to Superior Court.  Article 9 is also unanimously supported by selectmen.

On Election Day, Tuesday, March 11, the polls will be open to registered voters from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Golden Brook Elementary School. 

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Firefighter Grant Draws Much Discussion at Town Meeting

by Barbara O'Brien

While the proposed 2008 town operating budget, with expenses totaling more than $11.6 million, drew virtually no debate or public input, a substantial block of time was spent discussing the proposed warrant article (#20).  This article asks voters to approve acceptance of a federal grant, which, if received, would pay a good portion of the cost of hiring four new full-time firefighters for the Town of Windham.

The proposed warrant article, which is being recommended by a vote of 4 to 1 by selectmen, was up for debate during the annual deliberative session on Saturday, February 9 at Golden Brook Elementary School.  Selectmen Alan Carpenter, Margaret Crisler, Dennis Senibaldi and Bruce Breton are recommending passage of the proposal.  Only Selectman Roger Hohenberger is opposed.

Less than 40 Windham residents were in attendance when the meeting got underway at 9 a.m.  Those numbers did not change substantially as the day went on.

Article 20 asks that voters raise and appropriate the sum of $182,230 (this year) for the purpose of hiring four additional firefighters/emergency medical technicians (EMT) and to authorize the selectmen to accept and expend a portion of that cost ($101,200) through the Federal Homeland Security “Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response” (SAFER) grant.  This grant was applied for late last summer, after getting the go-ahead from the majority of selectmen.

Furthermore, the proposed warrant article states that, if the federal grant is awarded to Windham, additional money will be received through the SAFER grant for the next four years in the following amounts: 2009 (federal funds of $140,545, town's share of $167,305); 2010 (federal funds of $101,185, town's share of $233,895); 2011 (federal funds of $61,880, town's share of $302,505); and 2012 (federal funds of $16,890. town's share of $370,190).

According to Fire Chief Tom McPherson, calls for service are increasing daily, monthly and annually; a situation which is complicated further by the large number of simultaneous calls for service.  McPherson said that 33 percent of recent calls for service have been simultaneous, in that more than one call comes in at the same time.

A major goal of the Windham Fire Department, McPherson said, is adequate full-time staffing.  “Staffing is our number one priority, hands down,” McPherson emphasized.  The push for full-time firefighters has come about largely because of the decrease in the availability of call firefighters, who are called into work on an as-needed basis.  Most of them have other employment commitments and many work out of town.  Presently, Windham has eight call firefighters on staff, only three of whom McPherson said are active.  “Of those three,” he said, “two of them go to Florida for the winter.”

Assistant Fire Chief Robert Leuci said there has actually been a decrease in the overall number of firefighters in the department during the past 16 years, due to the loss of many call firefighters.  Leuci said that there were 35 firefighters on the Windham Fire Department in 1991, at which time a total of 800 calls were handled.  This compares with 27 firefighters today, handling more than 1,400 calls for service.

Prior to 2002, there were three firefighters on duty per shift.  Since that time, there have been four firefighters assigned to each shift.  If the grant money is awarded to Windham, that number would increase to five firefighters on each shift.

As for the federal grant, it's all or nothing, Leuci said.  “We can't accept it piece-meal.  It's either all four full-time firefighters or it's zero.”

“We are in dire need,” Leuci said, “An extra pair of hands on each shift will allow us to do more.”  Leuci also said that the lack of sufficient manpower can take its toll both on the community and on fire department personnel.  “Delayed responses place residents, property and personnel in jeopardy,” he said.  “Our response time is often delayed due to a lack of manpower,” McPherson said, adding that he feels accepting the federal grant money is a good way to cut some of the costs of expanding the department, while improving service to residents at the same time.

Leuci agreed that the federally funded “SAFER” grant is one way in which the burden on taxpayers can be lessened.  “It's a means by which we can ease the burden on the community with federal money,” he said.  “We'd be looking for firefighters who are already trained,” McPherson said, thereby minimizing the in-house cost of training.

Leuci said the Windham area has seen a growth in population of about 19 percent since 2000, development which has severely impacted the need for emergency services.  There has been a 69 percent increase in call volume in just the past 10 years, he said.  Medical emergencies, in particular, have been on the rise.

The widening of the I-93 corridor from the Massachusetts state line to Manchester is also expected to have a serious effect on Windham.  Currently, Leuci said, 110,000 vehicles travel that stretch on a daily basis.  That number is expected to increase to about 150,000 vehicles per day when the project is completed.  The Windham Fire Department is responsible for responding to motor vehicle accidents and other emergencies along the section of I-93 that stretches across the town.  “That means another 500 calls for service per year,” Leuci said, adding that the construction of I-93 is slated to expand this coming summer.  “They're supposed to start moving earth out there in June 2008,” he added.

Selectmen's Chairman Alan Carpenter agreed, “The Route 93 project will definitely bring more calls for service.  It's the unknown variable,” he said.

Selectman Margaret Crisler said she, too, believes the increased need for emergency services will come about soon.  “It's prudent to take advantage of the grant while we can,” she said.  “It may very well not be available in the future.”

Selectman Roger Hohenberger said he feels that “the fire department runs very efficiently as it is.”  “There's not a definite need right now,” he added.  “We'd be spending $1.1 million (over five years) to get back $400,000 (through the grant), Hohenberger said, adding that he feels hiring additional firefighters at this point is intended “to set up for a sub-station,” someday.

As for relying on emergency assistance from other area towns, Leuci said, “Mutual aid is maxed out.  Other towns in the area are already taxed, as well.”  Leuci then asked a rhetorical question of those attending the meeting.  “Would you want the Windham Fire Department to always be out of town helping elsewhere?” he asked. 

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