Drought’s legacy may be increased safety from fires

Princeton Packet
21 November, 1989

Drought’s legacy may be increased safety from fires

After nearly getting burned in the summer of 1988, municipal officials have been burning the midnight oil to come up with a plan to prevent a replay.

Princeton Township and Princeton Borough are about to introduce a fire protection ordinance that would create mandatory standards for fire hydrants in new developments.

The so-called fire protection flows ordinance, reportedly the first of its kind in  New Jersey, stems from the summer of 1988 water emergency in Princeton. The safety of many Princeton residents was in severe jeopardy because of anemic flows in the fire hydrants. Residents of the half-million dollar Russell Estates homes, for example, had so little water available to them that they were unable to flush second-floor toilets.

Even though the water crisis has been washed away by abundant rains this year, the Princeton governing officials know they cannot rely on the capricious behavior of Mother Nature when it comes to the safety of the residents.

Local office holders also know they cannot rely on state agencies empowered to enforce water flow standards in new developments. At last week’s New Jersey League of Municipalities convention, state officials from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Public Utilities admitted that “water for fire safety is not a top priority,” reported Princeton attorney William Potter, the municipalities’ special counsel on the issue of water supply. The state has no intention of spending its resources to properly review development applications. It will continue to take the word of the utility and the developer as to the sufficiency of the water flow in the hydrants.

The municipalities also have learned they cannot rely on the word of the utility that gives a letter of water flow adequacy to the developer. Formerly, the planning officials reviewing applications took the letter at face value and never bothered to ask for the ‘ specifics.

So the municipalities without any fanfare have worked steadily to come up with an ordinance to insure adequate fire protection for the benefit of both future occupants of new developments and nearby residents. A fire protection plan is to be a fundamental element in considering any major variance, site plan or subdivision. The plan will go to the municipal engineer for his opinion on the safety and adequacy of fire flows.

Every resident of Princeton should applaud the work of the municipal officials in this area. The officials kept the ball rolling, even, when the water issue was no longer front-page news.

In addition, the developers should find this ordinance agreeable, because of its flexibility. The proposal avoids placing the developer at the mercy of the utility as far as project approval. As stated in the ordinance, the provision of adequate fire protection flows into nearby and accessible hydrants “must be one of the most critical elements in the review of development proposals.” Also to be considered in the review process are other methods of assuring adequate fire protection — such as on-site fire suppression systems, automatic sprinklers and booster palms, and even the retrofitting and “fire-proofing” of nearby, existing structures.

The community should be aware that Princeton University paid a portion of the $20,000 cost of researching and writing this ordinance. We hope the university — currently under fire from members of the community for its garage proposal and for its opposition to proposed zoning changes—will continue to be part of a team dedicated to improving the public safety and welfare of the town.

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