- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—NORTH SWANZEY — The decades-old tradition of people sleeping in the barns with their livestock at the Cheshire Fair is no more per order of federal fire code.

And while some long-time fair participants aren’t bothered by the change, others are miffed.

“I’m extremely upset,” farmer Sheldon Sawyer said this morning. “Sleeping in the barns is safer for both the cattle and their owners rather than people sleeping in tents and campers.”

Sawyer, who owns Crescent Farm in Walpole, has been showing cows at the Cheshire Fair for 55 years, and has slept in the barns on many occasions. He said he doesn’t expect those habits to change this year despite the law being enforced.

Besides the Cheshire Fair, he’s also slept in barns at other fairs across the state, and has never had a problem, he said.

Jori Johnson, general manager of the Cheshire Fair Association, said Monday the fair association made the change after Swanzey Fire Chief Norman W. Skantze told members that people sleeping in the barns violates National Fire Protection Association regulations.

The notice came after an incident at last year’s fair when someone reported a bonfire between two barns. Fair security went to check the area, and tell those involved to put the fire out, Johnson said. At some point, the Swanzey Fire Department also got word of the situation and responded, she said.

The campfire had been extinguished by the time firefighters arrived.

While there, Skantze walked through one of the barns and noticed unsafe conditions that included people having entire kitchens set up with sleeping areas, including a baby crib and beds nearby, Johnson said.

Skantze said that until then, he didn’t know people were sleeping in the barns. Johnson said fair officials were also unaware.

“He said if there was ever a fire, he didn’t know how everyone would get out, especially at night when people are sleeping,” she said. “He said there are fire codes that regulate this.”

In a March letter to the Cheshire Fair Association, Skantze cited the NFPA1 (National Fire Protection Association) Fire Code 2009 Edition when outlining three regulations that would prevent people sleeping in the barns at the fair.

The regulations deal with occupancy, lodging and rooming houses and dormitories.

The use of ancillary structures, including the barns, within the fairgrounds property for sleeping accommodations isn’t allowed without life safety changes being made to the structures, Skantze wrote.

The barns lack fire protection features that include smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and fire separations, he wrote, adding that he’d recommend fair officials let participants know early about the change and fair security assist in educating them about it.

He said he understands the interest livestock owners have in wanting to stay in the barns to make sure their animals are safe. He also understands the value, especially for children showing animals at the fair, to stay in the barns because it helps them learn about raising livestock, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness,” Skantze said. “A fire would be difficult to control in the open barns. We certainly don’t want to see injury or loss of life.”

The barns, which house cattle, cows, horses, sheep and other livestock, are long, narrow wooden buildings with stalls on either side. Each stall has three shared walls, and those being used to house animals are often filled with shavings and hay.

The barns are at the southeast end of the Cheshire Fairgrounds, which are off Route 12, and abut a camping area.

A fire last month in one of the barns destroyed a portion of a cattle stall, but that fire had nothing to do with the decision of fair and town officials to enforce the fire codes, Skantze said. Fire officials have deemed that blaze, and another that happened the same night when a dump truck at the fairgrounds caught fire, suspicious, but haven’t said if they were arsons.

Besides not sleeping in the barns, fair participants also won’t be allowed to hook up any appliances including refrigerators, toasters, coffee makers, slow cookers and hot plates in the buildings.

Johnson said fair officials have gotten push back about the change from fair participants, many of whom want to make sure their animals are safe, and say they can sleep in the barns at other fairs.

She said fair officials have asked participants to take shifts to watch the animals at night. Fair officials are also working to improve the camping area, she said. People can stay there for a fee.

Skantze said in researching the regulations he talked to the West Springfield, Mass., Fire Department about how officials there handle sleeping in barns during the Big E. They told him it wasn’t an issue for them because the barns had fire alarm and sprinkler systems, he said.

Friends Kourtne P. Flanders, 23, and Lillian L. Wright, 16, both of Winchester, have been showing cattle at the Cheshire Fair for years. They said Monday the change doesn’t bother them, as they both sleep in a camper nearby. However, taking care of their animals at the fair is a full-time job, and they’d like to be able to heat up food, if they had to, at the barn, Flanders said.

She said sleeping in the barns is something she did with her friends when she was younger as a way to experience the fair.

“I personally feel people could still sleep in the barns as long as there aren’t things like coffee pots and microwaves hooked up,” she said. “But at the same time, I understand the need to keep people safe.”

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.

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(c)2015 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

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