Beach Fire Underscores Failures and Inefficiencies

Return to Table of Contents

Manpower Not an Issue at
Hampton Beach Fire


Hampton Union, Friday, March 12, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Now that some time has passed, people have spoken out and some decisions were made at Tuesday's town elections, it is probably worthwhile to weigh-in on the tragic fire that hit Hampton Beach on Feb. 25.

While, thankfully, no residents or firefighters were hurt in the blaze, it was tragic in the sense that an entire block of beach front, from Ashworth Avenue south to 'A' Street, is now gone.

Signature beach businesses, like the Happy Hampton Arcade, the Surf Motel and Mrs. Mitchell's Country Shoppe are gone leaving behind nothing but charred debris, twisted metal and singed brick. It is a filmmaker Tim Burton's "nightmare" not only in terms of what the beach currently looks like, but also in terms of its impact on taxpayers with the loss of $6 million in taxable properties.

At the outset, let us say that we don't believe the current staffing levels at the Hampton Fire Department contributed to the devastation this fire wrought. It is impossible to consistently staff a Fire Department to meet the challenges that occurred that night.

With the flames being fanned by 90-plus mph winds, and fire crews and equipment spread out all over the community addressing other fires and downed power lines, trees and poles, any department would have been hard-pressed to immediately contain this type of fire.

While it may have been nice to have a few more firefighters on staff that Thursday night, a small staffing increase would not have made much of a difference and would have probably also been spread out all over town addressing other issues along with the rest of the department.

However, there are other issues that may have been factors in the extent of the fire and how much of the beach was destroyed, and that blame lies at the feet of the Hampton department and town leaders.

It is unconscionable that the department is trying to make do with a 40-year-old generator that is expected to not only operate the bay doors at the beach fire station, but, more importantly, power the department's dispatch center in the event of a power outage.

We know a viable piece of fire equipment — a pumper engine — was left inside the beach station, just a few hundred yards from the fire scene, but what we don't know is how much of a delay there was in getting units to the fire scene because of the need to relocate the dispatch center to the uptown station on Winnacunnet Road. We may never know that.

We think it was the leadership of the department's responsibility to push — publicly, if necessary — for the funds to purchase a new generator, and the duty of the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee to recommend that voters fund that request. The claim from officials that they didn't want to spend taxpayers' money on equipment at the beach station because a new station is going to be built is no excuse when that facility is all that stands between townspeople and property, and disaster.

We also believe the department was remiss in not finding the money in its budget to repair the bay doors that were reportedly so corroded by salt water and air that they could not be operated manually the night of the fire, stranding the important pumper inside.

Even given the unique natural occurrences surrounding the event, the failures that have come to light following the Feb. 25 beach fire cast doubts about how safe anyone is in Hampton these days.

Return to Table of Contents