SWANZEY — Fire Chief Norman W. Skantze plans to leave at the end of this month after more than 11 years with the town to accept a position leading the Wolfeboro Fire Department.
Skantze notified the Swanzey Board of Selectman last week, according Selectman Bill Hutwelker.
“We’re very excited for him,” Hutwelker said. “It sounds like it’s a great opportunity for him, and he’s done a lot of tremendous work on behalf of the town and improving the fire department. So we just wish him well.”
Hutwelker said selectmen are meeting this week to discuss the search for Skantze’s replacement and who will take over in the interim.
“I was not seeking to necessarily leave Swanzey,” Skantze said Saturday. But the Wolfeboro job presented a compelling personal and professional opportunity, he said.
“This particular job is near where I’m originally from” in Gilmanton, he said. “It’s on Lake Winnipesaukee, it’s just a great community, there’s a career staff that works there and it was very attractive.”
Skantze was hired in the fall of 2008 as Swanzey’s first full-time fire chief. Before that, he led the Gilmanton and Bristol fire departments. He has also worked for the Keene Fire Department and Keene-based DiLuzio Ambulance.
“I have been the first full-time chief in three communities, Gilmanton, Bristol and Swanzey,” he said. “And it was just an accident.”
Skantze will serve as Wolfeboro’s fire chief and emergency management director. Unlike in his previous positions, Skantze won’t be the first full-time chief, and Wolfeboro has a larger regular staff, he said. But, Skantze noted, fire departments across New Hampshire are all dealing with similar issues.
“We’ve got aging fire stations in every town in the state,” he said. “We have EMS needs in every town in the state. We have manpower needs, every town in the state.”
Reflecting on his time in Swanzey, Skantze mentioned creating the department’s first full-time fire inspector position about three years ago. Capt. Eric Mattson serves in that role.
Skantze also talked about the challenge of serving a town of more than 7,000 residents with a limited regular staff. “We had to have really above-average, great call staff,” Skantze said.
On weekdays, many of those people are at their day jobs. Skantze said employers are often supportive and let them leave for major emergencies, but not routine calls.
“They’ll let them go for like a second alarm fire or bad accident or something like that,” he said. “But these employees cannot leave for routine EMS calls and routine fire calls.”
Skantze said he, Mattson and two part-time employees, Deputy Chief Vincent Sanchez and EMS coordinator Lt. Brandon West, staff those calls on weekdays in addition to their other duties.
For nights and weekends, Skantze said, the department has established voluntary on-call times so some of the 20 or so EMTs will be on call certain nights. “That was another little trick, another little scheme, to try and plug these holes that are really hard to plug,” he said.
The townspeople have been “extremely supportive,” he said, allowing the fire department to buy the equipment it needs regularly. “That absolutely makes it easier to recruit and retain people, when you have good equipment,” he said. “And it’s good for the people in the town.”
The possibility of a new fire station has also garnered attention during Skantze’s tenure.
For a number of years, officials have discussed what to do with the town’s central fire station, which is housed in the basement of the town hall. Skantze has said the facility is too small, has flooding issues, needs electrical upgrades and does not meet fire and building codes.
“We need to get the firefighters out of the basement of the town hall because it literally does not meet the life safety code,” he said Saturday.
Officials have brought forward proposals for a new station in recent years, with little success.
Voters rejected a $4.5 million bond for a new fire station in 2015. The following year, a $5.5 million bond that would have paid for a new station as well as repairs and upgrades to three town buildings also failed at the polls.
But Skantze said he believes there’s momentum behind the latest effort.
In March, voters approved putting $25,000 toward designing a new station on property the town purchased on Old Homestead Highway. The town has hired Katie Sutherland of Keene-based KCS Architects to develop a conceptual plan and has held public forums to gather input on the project, with the intention of putting the plan before voters next year.
“We’ve seen the public, and even some of the people in the past who’ve been against the project, coming out and being very supportive of it,” Skantze said.
He thinks the project could come together under his successor.
“I feel like the foundation is in place to make it happen,” he said. “… A lot of the heavy lifting’s been done by the town administrator, the department, the selectmen. And hopefully, if the town can get behind it, it will be effective under the next leader.
“And I’ll be excited to see it happen,” he added.
Lindy’s Diner, a longtime staple in Keene, closed abruptly Sunday with a sign that mentions new ownership.
Charles R. “Chuck” Criss, who co-owns the restaurant with Nancy M. Petrillo, confirmed they are scheduled to finalize the sale Monday and said he would release more information afterward.
The handwritten note on the front door began with, “We are closed,” and thanked customers for the past 16 years. It also urges people to return in the next few weeks to meet the new owners.
One after another Sunday, people walked up to the door — sometimes trying to pull it open without noticing the sign — and were stopped in their tracks by the announcement.
The late-morning crowd comprised out-of-towners, every-so-ofteners and would-be first-timers, including college students, young families and older couples. Some were visiting friends or family in surrounding towns, curious about Lindy’s or eager to bring someone else to a local favorite.
Most people seemed at a loss as to where to eat and asked for breakfast suggestions.
Sonja Martineau approached the diner with a newspaper in hand and was shocked to read the announcement. The lifelong Keene resident said she went to Lindy’s a couple times a month, though usually more often in the summer when she could sit on the patio.
“Diners for me are nostalgic. It was a place that my family could afford as a child,” she said, noting that they are disappearing these days.
Martineau expressed concern over new ownership and said she hopes they keep the outdoor seating as well as the classic diner atmosphere. She had planned to meet a friend at Lindy’s for a late breakfast and waited on the sidewalk to give her the news, too.
Criss and Petrillo bought the diner in 2003 for $188,000 from Arietta and George Rigopoulos, who had owned the business for nearly three decades.
Timoleon N. “Lindy” Chakalos opened the 60-seat diner in 1961 before selling it to the Rigopouloses in 1974; he later started Timoleon’s Family Restaurant on Main Street.
Evidence of the diner’s history abounds, from the silver 1940s cash register with thick plastic buttons to its faded sign with chipped paint and an arrow that looks like it lit up long ago. At each booth, a coin-operated tabletop jukebox played oldies, classics and a few newer hits.
Menu items included traditional breakfast and lunch fare, burgers and sandwiches, pie and plenty of coffee.
Lindy’s landmark status in Keene stems partially from its popularity as a campaign stop for state and federal politicians as well as presidential candidates. The diner’s tabletop collages boast snapshots with household names such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, John McCain and both George Bushes.
This article has been changed to correct the sale price of the diner in 2003.