By Nick B. Reid
Hampton Union, November 19, 2013
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON — It was with mixed emotions that a corps of retired Hampton firefighters watched the building that had for years been their part-time home crunch and crackle until it was nothing but a pile of rubble.
With an effortless turn of the Kidder Building and Wrecking excavator's arm, the roof of the nearly century-old Hampton Beach Fire Station crumpled and out floated a gust of documents from the 1930s and '40s detailing personnel and fire alarm data.
"There's all the records. They left 'em," said Leo Bourbeau, who worked his way from the on-call department in 1973 to a position as a full-timer that lasted until 1989.
The towering excavator unveiled red ribbons from yesteryears' Christmas parties, some furniture nearly as old as the building itself and a stainless steel stretcher to which some Hampton residents could, in part, owe their lives.
Most is owed, of course, to the firefighters who in a charged moment filed into large trucks — so large that they could hardly fit through the doors of the structure that dates back to horse-and-carriage days — and responded to the sometimes block-wide fires that unfortunately have been a constant in the densely packed beach's history.
For some, the demolition day was something they thought they'd never see. But in 2011, voters finally agreed to pay $3.2 million for a new station at the beach, saying goodbye to the old building that was on the state's register of historic places.
"We all said we're going to be long dead before we see another building," said Bob Thompson, who joined the department at 21-years-old and retired in 2005 at 51, as he leaned against the shiny railing of the newly operational station next door.
Everyone agreed that they had a host of memories stemming from the old, white building with its chipping paint — though many of them, they said, weren't for newsprint. But despite the memories, Thompson and others didn't regret seeing the station go.
"I'm not sad it's torn down," he said. "It should have been torn down 50 years ago."
The gathering of firefighters, active and retired, included a group of 10 old buddies who put in a total of 254 years with the Hampton Fire Department. They were all notified of the demolition by a fellow retiree, Rusty Bridle, and were there as much to say hello to their old friends as to say goodbye to an old building.
"There's a lot of stories in there, and the walls can't talk anymore," said Bridle. "You figure, that building's 90 years old and we each spent about 30 years in there."
Dan Chouinard, who worked for the department between 1969 and 1976, said it was a home for the people working there.
"It was really lived in," he said.
Chouinard even had a wedding anniversary party in 1971 within those walls. He said the fire crew decorated the place and a former Coast Guard cook made everyone a meal.
Thompson said he considers himself to have grown up in the old building. And since then, "I watched my kids go through here and grow up with Christmas parties here," he said.
Thompson's most vivid memory of the place is from the Blizzard of '78, when the main floor was flooded by 3 feet of water. He said he went back in to take a photo of the high-water mark that was left from that famous storm, but he couldn't find it.
Nevertheless, he remembers rescuing people from their homes and bringing them back to the station, where firefighters had to wade through waist-high water to bring people to the second floor.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'I don't think this is the best place to be bringing them,'" he laughed, noting that the whole building was swaying back and forth.
Mike Murray, who worked for the department between 1971 and 2006, also said the old building would have some stories to tell if it could. But even as the beach landmark was silenced by heavy construction equipment, Murray and his old comrades did the talking, about how things have changed — such as the ever more powerful hoses — and how they haven't — such as the consistent staffing levels.
At least the new guys now have a contemporary building, said Thompson.
"It's sad to see it go, but I'm glad for these guys," he said. "It's tough working in there."