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Citing Safety Issues, Fire Officials Urge Expanded Inspection Program

Matthew Hersh

The Princeton Township Bureau of Fire Prevention is asking for an increased inspection program and the hiring of two part-time inspectors, citing safety concerns and increased compliance with Township fire codes.

Ronald DiLapo, fire official at the Bureau, proposed to Township Committee Monday night an increase in inspection to all businesses in the Township that do not currently fall under the classification of a "life hazard facility."

Mr. DiLapo also suggested that once an expanded program is in place, fire codes will be more stringently enforced, with the possibility of imposing fines on individuals or businesses not adhering to code.

The Bureau official also worried that his department was short-staffed.

"At this time, we are a one-man Fire Prevention Bureau," he said, expressing the need for a "multi-faceted" program.

The cost of an increased program will not dip into the tax base, Mr. DiLapo said. Rather, it will rely on a pay-for-service program charging fees that range from $84 to $3,706 depending on the facility being inspected.

The expanded program will not impact multi-family dwelling units, just common areas of egress, sewerage, and electrical aspects of multiple-family buildings.

Currently, the bureau inspects those buildings as identified by the state because of use and potential hazard, issuing fire safety permits, smoke detector and carbon dioxide detectors, examining fire concerns on all planned development throughout the Township, and on-scene fire investigation after a fire occurs.

Mr. DiLapo said that under his proposed expansion, the average business would pay about $125 per inspection, but still range on use and scope. Community Park Elementary School, as is the case with all schools, Mr. DiLapo said, costs $466 per inspection. Those calculations currently do not take into account square-footage, whereas the mandates under that state program, on which the expansion proposal is based, figures square-footage into the overall inspection cost.

Businesses at the Princeton Shopping Center, which range in size, currently range in inspection price as well, Mr. DiLapo said.

Regarding compliance with code, the fire official said the intent was not to enforce the code through punitive measures, but through assistance in abiding by the mandates.

"Our intent is not to unjustly charge business owners," he said.

As it stands, the Township's as-yet-unapproved 2005 budget provides for the anticipated revenue from the inspection program, according to James Pascale, Township administrator.

"We'll start out slow, hire one person, monitor their performance and see how many inspections they get done," he said, adding that a "careful eye" would be kept on the program to ensure the program's self-sustainability.

Both Princeton Fire Department Chief Pat McAvenia and Borough Councilman David Goldfarb, also a firefighter with the department, endorsed Mr. DiLapo's proposal, saying the program would enhance resident and firefighter safety.

"Sometimes, when there's a fire, the buildings are unoccupied and there's no threat to civilians, but there's always a threat to firefighters," Mr. Goldfarb said.

An ordinance to expand the inspection program was introduced Monday night and a public hearing is scheduled for Committee's May 23 session.

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