Commuting firemen maintain ties to town

Princeton Packet
17 April, 1990

Commuting firemen maintain ties to town

In the not-too-distant past, all but one of the line officers in Princeton Mercer Engine Company No. 3 lived outside the two towns they had volunteered to protect.

Though the Situation ‘is not as drastic today as it once was, many of the approximately 125 registered firefighters in the three volunteer fire companies live outside Princeton Township and Princeton Borough, officials said.

The reasons they cite for continuing their activism are a testament to the camaraderie developed within the companies.

The reasons given for leaving Princeton speak strongly about the lack of affordable housing in town.

Many volunteers said they left Princeton right after marriage. The lack of housing opportunities in town forced them to look ‘at Plainsboro, West Windsor and Hamilton townships for a place to live.

But the ties fostered in the fire-house keep them tethered to Princeton, they said. Other area fire companies say they are facing similar orcum. stances, but not in numbers comparable to Princeton. In Plainsboro, fire officials are considering new restrictions on out-of-town morn-berg.

The Princeton department has “about 20 percent” of its 125 members living outside either the township or borough, Chief Eric Karch said.

Some of the firefighters — including Chief Karch forego a Princeton address, but not the bonds and traditions that developed over years of service.

In many cases, the firefighters followed a long line of family members into the same company.

“I just enjoy being with that group of guys,” said West Windsor resident Robert Bruschi, a 15-year-veteran of Princeton’s Mercer Engine Company No. 3. He left his hometown of -Prince-ton when he was first married, Mr. Brushi, West Windsor township-administrator, said.

“At that point (affordable housing) was really the reason. There wasn’t even a lot of rental property available,” Mr. Bruschi said.

Now his duties as West Windsor administrator keep him away from as much activity as he likes, he said.

Even though he is a visible member of his present community, Mr. Bruschi said he still wants to keep ties with his.buddies in the Princeton fire department.

“Many of those people are guys I’ve spent a good chunk of my life with,” he said.

That sentiment is familiar among the volunteers who don’t have Princeton as their residence.

“I’ve got an awful lot at stake in this town,” said Peter Hodge, pan owner of the Mather-Hodge Funeral Home on Vandeventer Avenue.

The West Windsor resident joined Princeton’s Hook and Ladder Company in 1971. He said he worked his way up the line through countless hours of training and volunteering.

In 1985, when he was deputy chief of the department, a chance came up to buy a house in neighboring’ West Windsor, he said.

But he could not simply toss away the years of experience that would be helpful not only in an emergency, but in training new officers and members, he said.

“You know the quirks of Bank Street, of Chambers Street,” Mr. Hodge said. “You know where the fire hydrants are. You know the idiosyncrasies of the town,” he added.

For him to join a company in West Windsor, he would have to learn as much about that township, Mr. Hodge said.

Besides, the Hook and Ladder headquarters “is only about three miles down Washington Road,” from his Penss Neck home, about the same distance as the nearest West Windsor firehouse, he said.

Current regulations allow members of the Princeton companies to live six miles from the Medical Center at Princeton.

Many of the members who reside outside the town lines still work in Princeton and that allows them to respond to daytime calls, Mr. Karch said.

In addition, the department also relies on a core group of members who both live and work in Princeton, the chief said.

But for those who both live and work outside Princeton, the commitment can be tough.

“You have to do one or the other. If not, things can be really hard,” Mr. Bruschi said.

File Photo

Princeton volunteer firefighters battling a blaze at an Alexander Street business last August.


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