Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 13
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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Packed Meeting Room Hears Borough Council Okay Firehouse Repairs

Dilshanie Perera

The main meeting room was packed with firefighters, supporters, and other interested parties for last week’s Borough Council discussion about the status of the repairs at Engine Company Number One. The governing body unanimously approved proceeding with floor repairs at the Chestnut Street firehouse and engaging in a study of the entire Princeton Fire Department vis-à-vis its spatial, equipment, and staffing needs.

A structural study conducted at the Chestnut Street firehouse last fall showed the floor to be an area of concern, and subsequently, the fire trucks housed there were temporarily moved to the fire department location on Witherspoon Street. A leaking roof is another source of concern.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi recommended proceeding with the necessary floor reinforcements, which are expected to cost $7,800, and noted that the roof leak and drainage issues were an “unknown quantity” that would have to be dealt with in the overall discussion about the future of the Princeton Fire Department and its buildings.

Monies for the floor repair would be taken out of the joint municipal facilities budget, which will allow for the center bay in the Chestnut Street firehouse to be fixed.

“We would like to see a truck put in there as soon as possible,” acknowledged President of Engine Company One William Shields, with Fire Chief Dan Tomalin agreeing that “having an engine in there is definitely a good thing, particularly for duty crews responding.”

Moving forward, Mr. Bruschi suggested that Borough staff proceed immediately to address the repairs at the Number One firehouse, draft a plan for a consultant to weigh the utility of having three fire houses, and make recommendations as to whether any should incorporate two companies, and “exercise every effort we can to preserve the tradition and history of each fire company.”

The Princeton Fire Department is comprised of three all-volunteer fire companies, some over 200 years old, housed in three locations throughout the Borough and Township. Engine Company One is located on Chestnut Street, while Princeton Hook and Ladder is at Harrison Street, and Mercer Engine Company Three is housed on Witherspoon Street.

“Things have changed, and we might need to modify the way we provide services,” Mr. Bruschi said, though he emphasized that regardless of location, the need for preserving each of the three fire companies and their social character is imperative.

Mr. Bruschi envisioned that over the next six to 12 months, the best plan of action would be to begin the floor repairs as soon as possible, and move toward a consensus and partnership regarding the request for proposals (RFP) for the study.

Noting that the Fire Chief had been promoting a single house response since 2006, Mr. Bruschi emphasized that while the crew is doing a great job, an analysis should be done to determine how spatial configurations might ease the burden on “a very busy fire department.”

Responding to Council member Roger Martindell’s question concerning intended building use after the floor repair is complete, Mr. Bruschi said that he views the fix as an “insurance policy” that would allow them to use the firehouse until further decisions are made. “It is important that we keep all our apparatus under a roof,” he added, noting that at least two buildings were needed to house the trucks.

Next steps include continuing to work with members of the Fire Department to determine needs, and engaging in a quarterly review of the single house, consolidated response program, which is scheduled to begin on April 15.

Encouraging a look at various potential properties, as well as the community’s needs, Council member Barbara Trelstad, urged careful planning regarding the future of the department.

“The crucial issue for us is where do we go in terms of a volunteer versus professional force?” said Council President Andrew Koontz, who inquired about the viability of consolidating the force down to one house, generating more volunteers, and what moves might be in the best interest of the taxpayer.

Director of Emergency Services for the Borough Mark Freda noted that the recruitment and retainment aspects would be incorporated into the RFP.

President of the Ladies Auxiliary of Engine Company Number One Kate Warren drew applause when she expressed her support for the floor repair, and requested that Council complete the roof repair as well. “Bring the truck back. It goes a long way for morale,” she said.

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