Confusion reigns where streets in New Hampshire towns have similar namesBy JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent
October 15. 2012 8:31PM
He remembers a time when the Advanced Life Support crew from Exeter Hospital ended up on High Street because there was confusion over the street name.
And it's not the first time emergency responders have gone to the wrong road.
More than a dozen streets in Epping have similar names. There's Lamprey River Drive, Lamprey Village Court and Lamprey Lane.
Then there's Hedding Road, Hedding Avenue, and Old Hedding Road. Folsom Lane, Folsom Avenue, Folsom Mill Road and Folsom Mill Lane can also cause headaches.
And just last week there was confusion over Mill Street and Mill Pond Road.
'When someone's having a heart attack, those minutes really matter,' Chapman said.
Epping is one of many towns across the state facing road name changes to avoid problems for police, fire and rescue personnel.
Officials from the state's Bureau of Emergency Communications are working with towns to change similar names to make it easier for the state's Enhanced 911 operators and local emergency personnel.
While some responders may be familiar with potentially confusing roads in their own towns, officials say it can be a problem for other town departments responding with mutual aid.
Callers can also become easily confused in an emergency, telling a 911 operator that they're on High Road when they really mean High Street, officials said.
But changing a name is often met with resistance from residents forced to change their address.
The plan to change names of roads in Epping's Camp Hedding neighborhood has sparked outrage from some who feel their road names are historic and shouldn't be touched.
'It's not intended to make lives miserable by changing their street name. It's intended to make sure first emergency responders can get there as quickly as possible,' said Bruce Cheney, the state's emergency services director.
The state began working to create a 'city-style' address system with a number and street name in 1994, Cheney said. At that time, 85 percent of the state had rural route and box numbers.
Today, about 15 percent of New Hampshire towns must still be converted to the city-style system, and part of that push means getting rid of road names that sound similar and could be troublesome according to standards set by the National Emergency Number Association.
The state began pushing even harder for road name changes after a fatal fire in Swanzey in 1999, when there was confusion over the address due to similar names, Cheney said.
Bow is facing a similar problem with about 15 roads in town, Town Manager David Stack said.
A meeting with residents from five problematic streets was held at the end of July, and the decision was made to change the names because they conflicted with others. The new names will go into effect on July 1, 2013.
Stack said the name changes will be done in groups of streets over time.
'As you get newer people and newer people on town departments, and as you get larger, there's not that familiarity with where everybody is,' Stack said.
Some of the roads in Bow that can create confusion include South Bow Dunbarton Road, North Bow Dunbarton Road, and Dunbarton Center Road; Old Woodhill Road and Woodhill Road; and Risingwood Drive and Ridgewood Drive.
The town also has a One Stack Drive, which can be confusing when emergency responders are called to an address like 30 One Stack Drive, Stack said. To eliminate the problem, he said the One will be removed, making it Stack Drive.
Other concerns involve confusing street numbers, which will need to be addressed, especially on Route 3A, Stack said.
Epping Police Chief Michael Wallace said similar road names are a problem for police as well. By the time a 911 call is relayed to local police, he said, the information has gone through two to three different people and sometimes the 'translation can get lost when you have roads with similar names.'
Similar road names can be particularly confusing for dispatchers at the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department, who dispatch for 25 police departments, 18 fire departments, and their own sheriff deputies.
Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing said he worries about some departments responding to the wrong street when there's a 'major event' requiring mutual aid from multiple towns.
'Time is always critical,' he said.
Londonderry has spent years working on name changes and still has more to go, according to Londonderry Fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie.
The town looked at changing names like Hardy, Hovey and Harvey roads, but decided to keep them the same because of the businesses and number of people affected, MacCaffrie said.
'We're still going through the list to see what can be changed,' he said. 'We'll keep going through the process. Unfortunately, it's time-consuming.'