NH fire department requesting LED sign

The department said it would help residents with being more aware of emergency procedures

By Dana Wormald
The Union Leader

LONDONDERRY, N.H. —When a freak October snowstorm left most of the town in the dark last fall, many residents reported a lapse in communications when it came to school cancellations and the availability of the town's emergency shelter.

This week, local fire officials said installing an LED message sign in front of Central Fire Station on Mammoth Road would help keep locals more aware of emergency procedures in the event of another weather emergency.

Firefighter Vinny Curro told the Town Council Monday night that the station's current sign - a dated, wooden sign with a cutout of "Smokey the Bear" on the front - is several decades old, and during extreme weather conditions, the wooden boards swell, making it difficult for staff to change the "fire danger" placards.

Curro said the department is hoping to retain the old sign's country appearance but add the component of electronic messaging.

He noted that other area fire departments, such as Auburn, Derry and Salem, have all switched to electronic message signs in recent years.

In Auburn, fire officials reportedly used FEMA grants to cover part of their sign's cost after residents reported that the department's Twitter and Facebook accounts weren't an effective means of communicating emergency information during a power outage.

Fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie said Londonderry also has a shot at obtaining similar grant funding to cover part of the sign's estimated $5,000 cost, but the department must submit an application this month in order to be in the running.

Following a brief discussion on the town's current sign ordinances, the council gave MacCaffrie its blessings to seek funding, though a public hearing or two will be necessary before a new sign is installed.

Londonderry's current sign ordinance prohibits any type of animated or flashing sign, and signs may not "cause visual confusion, glare or offensive lighting in the neighborhood."

Councilor Tom Dolan noted that the proposed fire department sign clearly wouldn't comply with the current town ordinances, but said the Town Council and Planning Board could ultimately vote to make an exception to the rule.

"We've worked hard to try and maintain the look and feel of the town," he said. "These electronic messaging signs are believed to be the most offensive. Some of these signs are really bright and can be distracting at night. They look more like a high-definition TV set."

Dolan added that, "before we move forward with anything, I would say there needs to be at least a couple of public hearings."

However, Councilor Tom Freda said the town has made exceptions to the rule in the past. "I think the safety messages would trump everything else," he said.

Councilor Jim Butler, who serves on the Heritage Commission, said he already knows the commission would have concerns about the new sign.

"So, it's important for us to get public input," he said.

Councilors agreed the best option would be to work with the Planning Board and revisit the existing sign ordinance in the coming weeks, with a final decision to be made in time for the start of 2013.

"A major theme during the power outage last fall was the fact that communications were poor," Council Chairman John Farrell said. "Any vehicle we can have that might make things better, well, I think we need to head in that direction."

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