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May 20. 2013 11:37AM

Firefighters say casino revenue needed for 'public safety'

CONCORD -- Representatives of the state’s largest firefighters union tried to make their final case in favor of casino gambling legislation Monday, insisting the revenue boost is needed to free up local tax dollars to bolster local departments and for other state needs.

“Don’t take a gamble on public safety,” said David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, which has long backed gambling legislation. Senate Bill 152, which would legalize a single casino in the southern part of the state, is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday.

The casino bill would direct money for higher education, infrastructure improvements and North Country economic development.

The vote is expected to be close. The bill has passed the state Senate and has the strong support of Gov. Maggie Hassan.

At a news conference, Lang said firefighters are taught to “look, listen and feel” when treating a victim. And when going into Granite Staters’ homes, “We see when there is a struggling or an anemic economy,” he said.

While lawmakers say public safety is a priority, Lang said, “If you say you care about public safety, how do you not fund mental health? How do you not fund infrastructure or higher education?”
 
“We’re asking the state representatives to listen to what the people want,” said Lang, noting that polls have shown that a majority of Granite Staters support expanded gambling.

“We’re trying to fund government using a 19th Century philosophy, using a 20th Century tax structure, in the 21st Century,” Lang said.

Nashua firefighters’ union president James Kirk said, “I see a side of New Hampshire that desperately needs help. I see mental health issues, domestic abuse and people really in need of care.”

He said gambling is needed to provide a “New Hampshire revenue source that would put money back into funding these issues to increase public safety and make New Hampshire a better place to live.”

Two freshman House members who are also firefighters, Democrat Chris Andrews of Bow and Republican Kevin St. James of Kingston, urged their fellow freshman lawmakers to unite behind the casino bill.

“Making tough decision is what firefighters do and is what we were elected to do,” said Andrews. Added St. James, “This is not a partisan issue, this is an economic issue.”

Berlin firefighter Roland Berthiaume said his 18-member department is facing possible cuts of four firefighters by the end of the year, which, he said, would reduce the number of firefighters on-duty at any one time from four to three.

He said the cuts would compromise public safety in Berlin, with its “densely-built neighborhoods, multiple story buildings and aging infrastructure, with very limited mutual aid.

“We are part of New Hampshire, too, and we desperately need the economic investment,” said Berthiaume. “In emergencies, seconds count and the time is ticking for the North Country, not just in Berlin, but the entire region.”


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