Members of the all-volunteer Princeton Fire Department have had to show up at fire scenes in their private vehicles and rely upon a truck fleet that includes one fire engine that is used only as a last resort.
Some relief is on the way as the town will spend $1.4 million to buy a new ladder truck and an engine truck to replace two older vehicles, both of which date to the 1980s. Princeton University is contributing $500,000 toward the purchase.
Fire Chief Dan Tomalin went before the Princeton Council on Monday to tell officials why the replacement trucks are necessary. In an interview afterward, he said the older of the two vehicles is from 1982, has no seatbelts and is an open cab – meaning there are no doors in the rear of the truck where firefighters sit on the jumpseats and the back of the truck is not totally enclosed.
“I don’t want to put anybody on it,” he said.
The other engine is from 1989 and kept at 306 Alexander St. at the university, where school employees are volunteer members of the department. Effectively, the department is left with four front-line pieces at its firehouse to respond to a fire.
“Obviously, having all of your apparatus available to go on a call is safer than not having it,” he said. “However, our town is not unsafe. We have a mutual aid agreement with all of our surrounding towns.”
In his presentation to council, he pointed to how firefighters respond to “large-scale” incidents in their personal vehicles. That only occurs in situations when all four trucks have left the firehouse to respond to the working fire.
Tomalin said that “if there’s a large enough fire that we get our four pieces out of the firehouse quick, then they go get their gear and come to the scene.”
That, however, makes it “difficult for commanders to maintain complete accountability on scene” and “causes delays and uncoordinated arrival of resources,” according to a copy of the written PowerPoint presentation he made to Council Monday night.
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