Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 3
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
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Fire Department Looks To Study for Achieving Efficiency, Sustainability

Dilshanie Perera

A new study of the Princeton Fire Department, the first one to be conducted in over 20 years, will shed light on the operation and efficiency of each of the three fire companies. It is slated to provide recommendations as to cost savings, restructuring, and maintaining a vibrant volunteer firefighting force.

The company Kramer and Associates was recently selected as the consulting firm for the study, with William Kramer as the project leader, after being approved by the Chief, Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Director of Emergency Services for the Borough Mark Freda, and provided with a positive vote by Council to proceed. The study costs $21,600 and is expected to be completed within 120 days.

The Borough, which operates the joint agency, is seeking “to identify possible areas of improvement in the fire department’s organization and/or operations while seeking to maintain the quality of critical services, as well as providing a road map for future purchases, organizational structure, and operations,” according to its request for proposals.

Three fire companies comprise the entire department, namely: Princeton Hook and Ladder Company, Princeton Engine Company No. 1, and Mercer Engine Company No. 3. “Each fire house has its own personality … and rich tradition,” Mr. Freda noted.

Reporting that discussions about conducting a fire study began in 2005, Mr. Freda said progress was halted after only one consultant sent back a proposal. Conversation turned to a study in April of 2010, when the Fire Chief suggested that having fire trucks split between the three firehouses was not the optimal configuration for responding to emergencies.

“We went to a single station response,” Mr. Freda explained, noting that the four primary fire trucks are now housed in the Witherspoon Street Fire House, with all companies reporting there when a call comes in. Two trucks in the other facilities would be used in the event that the other four were already engaged.

The Borough wants an impartial and objective analysis done by the consultant, and Mr. Freda anticipated that he will “look at things like: How many fire houses should we have? How many trucks? What type of trucks should they be? Should we focus on a certain type of training?” Every aspect of departmental operations will come under scrutiny, and will be compared with national standards pertaining to towns of similar geographic and demographic sizes.

Since the fire department is comprised of all volunteers, Mr. Freda said that the study would look ahead to the future to answer questions about how long the volunteer system might last in Princeton, what kind of warning signs would indicate that an all-volunteer system may be fading, and how to recruit and retain more volunteers.

Currently, the department has about 80 regular members and approximately 25 associate members.

“One problem is the cost impact of not having a purely volunteer fire department … it is very significant for the taxpayers of the two towns,” Mr. Freda said. “You also have to make sure that you’re providing the proper service.”

Mr. Kramer and his team have conducted interviews with the members of each of the three fire companies. “He’s going to live here for five or six weeks straight,” Mr. Freda noted. “He is available for 24 hours a day for members of the fire department. That is an important feature. Everyone in and connected to the fire department … has a clear opportunity to connect with the consultant.”

Once completed, the report from the fire study will be made public during an open public meeting of either the Borough or Township, or during a joint public meeting.

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