Gilford NH Fire Apparatus Feud Impacts Election

Budget Committee member Philip “Pat” LaBonte is running for the Board of Fire Engineers. LaBonte has not yet signed up for reelection to the town Budget Committee.

LaBonte, who has served Gilford in a number of capacities including a stint as a fire engineer, has recently become of of the staunchest critics of the department. His concerns have been centered around maintenance issues and what he believes to be a lack of regular maintenance and poor record keeping.

He and Budget Committee member Kevin Leandro led the initiative last year when the Fire Engineers recommended buying an attack engine to replace Engine 4.

LaBonte and Leandro have extensive backgrounds in diesel engines and heavy trucks. Neither man is a former firefighter, though LaBonte is a former fire engineer.

The two successfully made the case to the voters and initially to the Board of Selectmen that Engine 4 could be repaired and likely better maintained, and voters at annual town meeting overwhelmingly voted down the engine replacement.

The Budget Committee split 6-to-6 and did not recommend buying a new fire truck. Acting on the information given to them by Leandro and LaBonte, selectmen voted 3-to-0 to not recommend the passage of the warrant article and it failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin at the March annual town meeting ballot vote.

After it failed, members of the fire department took Engine 4 to Lakes Region Fire Apparatus in Tamworth for repairs — the most significant of which was to the pump.

Mechanics dissembled the pump and realized that not only were the insides not functioning properly but the pump-housing was damaged beyond repair. Added to the other needed repairs of a radiator, some cab mounts and some loose wiring and the new estimate to fix Engine 4 went to somewhere between $40,000 and $70,000 — depending on who was asked.

Lakes Region Fire Apparatus mechanics also notified Chief Steve Carrier that the brakes were unsafe and Engine 4 was taken out of service and towed back to Gilford.

Selectmen and Fire Engineers petitioned the Belknap County Superior Court for a special town meeting to raise the money for a replacement engine. The measure failed by 10 votes.

In the interim, selectmen decided to let the Department of Public Works fix what it could on Engine 4, including the brakes that required it be taken out of service, and send it to Lakes Region Fire Apparatus for the pump repairs. To date, the town has spent about $70,000 — according to Selectman John O’Brien — on repairs to Engine 4 but that dollar amount includes the nearly 570 man-hours put in at the Department of Public Works garage.

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