Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 38
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
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PFD Undergoes Another Shake Up

Matthew Hersh

Less than a year after a Princeton Fire Department chief abruptly left his post citing conflicting time scheduling between his full-time job and the increasing responsibilities of running an all-volunteer department, another chief has left the department, and Princeton Borough is now looking to modify the department’s governance structure.

Chief Jamie Alkhateeb, a former deputy chief at Princeton Hook & Ladder, announced his family’s plans late last month to move to Florida, subsequently tendering his resignation to the Borough, which administers the joint Borough-Township agency.

Mr. Alkhateeb’s departure does not appear to be a result of internecine tension, as was apparently the case following the resignation of Mr. Alkhateeb’s predecessor, Pat McAvenia. His resignation, however, gave the Borough the opportunity to revisit the department’s structure — considered outdated by some Borough officials.

Last year, when Mr. McAvenia announced his resignation, the borough sought to examine the department’s ordinance structure, which has not had a full rewrite in decades, according to Borough administrator Robert Bruschi. In the last year, the presidents of each of the department companies, including Hook & Ladder, Engine Company #1, and Mercer Engine Company #3, the chiefs of each company, as well as a select number of officers, met multiple times to discuss the department’s bylaws. “But the area that we spent the most time on,” Mr. Bruschi said, “was the selection of the chief.

“We needed a change.”

The Borough unanimously introduced an ordinance last Tuesday that, if passed, would set into motion a series of new departmental standards, including the elimination of a 12-member board of engineers, and replacing it with a CADS (Chief and Deputies) team, that will handle general control and management of the department.

The selection process will also be altered. Under the new proposal, which is expected to go before Borough Council for a public hearing and final vote at Council’s October 23 meeting, the fire chief and two deputy fire chiefs would be confirmed by the mayor and Borough Council following a recommendation by a selection appointment committee. Chiefs and deputy chiefs would then carry out two-year terms and could be eligible for reelection.

For the time being, it appears that Princeton Engine Co. #1 Deputy Chief Rick McKee is in line to be named as Chief Alkhateeb’s successor. Deputy Chief McKee appeared at Borough Council last Tuesday, along with other department officers to weigh in on the proposals, and department representatives seemed largely warm to the proposed regulations.

Mr. Bruschi said the strains on the department chief have diminished since the Borough implemented its false alarm ordinance, which has “drastically” cut back on the calls that go out to the department, but there is still a time factor when it comes to being chief, he said.

“When there are a few calls a day, there’s a big commitment, so we wanted to come up with a process where we’re choosing qualified candidates,” Mr. Bruschi added.

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