Fire chief says most safety allegations untrue

July 1, 1994

Fire chief says most safety allegations untrue

Complaints against department called unfair, groundless

By Laurie Lynn Strasser

Staff Writer

An anonymous complaint to the state claiming that the Princeton Fire Department is not in compliance with a variety of safety regulations is largely groundless, one of its three chiefs said Thursday.

“They just got as many things as they could think about and threw them on a piece of paper,” said David Bogle, chief of Mercer Engine Company No. 3.

“There’s nothing wrong with somebody pointing out deficiencies within the department. We welcome that, but a blatant attack like this is truly a shame.

“Eighty-five percent of the complaints are groundless in my opinion,” he said. “The remaining 15 percent is either in the works or budgeted for the future.”

The joint department serves both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, but it is administered by the borough.

The borough, which was informed of the complaint in a June 17 letter from the Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program, has until July 17 to respond.

PEOSHP, which received the complaint on June 10, aims to “work to resolve the problem in a cooperative manner,” spokesman Bernard Edelman said Thursday.

“No one comes down as the heavy on this,” he said. “We will be going down there unannounced at one point. The goal is to investigate the veracity of the complaint and work with them to come up with a plan to corrcct any deficiencies. A lot of deficiencies don’t get rectified in 30 days.”

After discussing the complaint Tuesday, the Borough Council referred it to the fire chiefs and the department’s Board of Engineers, Borough Administrator Thomas Shannon said Thursday.

The fire administrators have been asked to draft a response within 30 days, explaining “the areas we are in compliance with, don’t need to be in compliance with, or are not in compliance with,” he said.

“It will include a timeline of how the latter areas can be brought into compliance.” The borough will send its reply to the state before the 30-day deadline and ask the state to endorse the compliance schedule, he said.

Mayor Marvin Reed said the borough and the department already were working together, even before the complaint was filed, to address many of the concerns it raises.

On Thursday, Mr. Bogle addressed each of the major items in the complaint:

• The department has not established a plan detailing how firefighters’ physical fitness should be evaluated.

True, Mr. Bogle said. In May, firefighters protested that proposed fitness criteria drafted by Assistant Administrator Marlena Schmidt were too strict. Many members of the department claimed that they would not be able to pass muster if the standards were adopted. They said there would be too few people left to fight fires.

The board of engineers plans to review the borough’s more detailed and understandable proposal July 20, Mr. Bogle said.

“The fire department has said we will comply with all the state mandates. There’s no question,” he said. “We just have to work out the details yet with the borough.”

• Firefighters are exposed to exhaust fumes from their own trucks.

True for two out of three fire stations, Mr. Bogle said.

An architect is working on plans to fix the ventilation systems in the garages of the Princeton Hook and Ladder Co. and Engine Co. No. I, Mr. Shannon said.

Mercer Engine Co. No. 3, the new station on Witherspoon Street, has an acceptable diesel emissions system, Mr. Bogle said.

• The department has not kept records of which training courses members have completed.

That, too, is true, Mr. Bogle said. Firefighters receive certificates for each training course completed, but they don’t necessarily keep them, he said.

However, he questioned the need to do so. Borough Council just passed rules and regulations stipulating what training qualifications are needed to qualify for each departmental rank, he said.

• The department does not have a written plan about how to deal with emergencies in confined spaces.

“This is a brand new area of training,” Mr. Bogle said. The first aid squad, which is working with the fire department to form a confined space rescue team, hosted a two-day certification seminar in early May, he said.

• Firefighters use substandard or outdated protective clothing — such as helmets, hoods, coats, gloves, pants and boots.

“We do not issue outdated or substandard gear, and if anyone has some, it’s their responsibility to exchange it for gear that meets requirements,” Mr. Bogle said.

However, he said it is difficult to keep up with industry standards because they change from year to year.

• The department lacks a written policy about how to deal with firefighters who are injured or involved in accidents.

“The policy is to send the person to the hospital,” Mr. Bogle said. “There are multiple forms to fill out for injury, and the borough has workmen’s compensation, which takes effect at that point.”

• The department lacks written specifications about proper on-the-job use of air masks and tanks.

That is incorrect, Mr. Bogle said.

• The department has no written policy pertaining to situations involving hazardous materials.

“We have a hazardous materials response plan in effect,” Mr. Bogle said.

“It’s a fairly thick document. The fire department has made a great effort to have everybody receive basic training. We call in Hamilton’s Haz-Mat team for anything above our training level.”

Mr. Edleman said PEOSHP knows the name of the complainant, but that the person has requested anonymity.

Asked to respond to Mayor Reed’s comment Monday that the complaint probably came from one of the fire department’s 270 members, Mr. Edleman said that the person “obviously has to know enough about the workings of the fire department.”

‘Mr. Shannon agreed, saying, ‘It’s very likely it has to be someone who knows a lot about fire-fighting because if you look at the complaint, it’s very detailed.”

Fire Commissioner Mildred Trotman said any number of people could have been behind it.

“There are a lot of firemen who don’t believe that strong enough steps have been taken toward training, toward anything,” she said.

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