27 October, 1987
Firefighter recruiting falling short
By Barbara Preston
Princeton’s volunteer firefighters are considering extending their September-October membership drive into a yearlong effort because so far, with a week to go. only four new prospective members have signed up.
“Four is not a great number, but it is four more than we had otherwise,” Princeton Fire Chief Ken Rendall Ill, said.
Mr. Rendall said in an earlier interview that if Princeton’s three volunteer fire companies do not do well in this recruitment drive then fire officials would have to consider having a paid fire company.
It would cost the two municipalities about $1.6 million to pay firefighters, he said. He added that he would hate to see a paid fire department because there is “a lot of pride that goes into being a volunteer.”
“It’s volunteer and we want to keep it that way,” Mr. Rendall said.
The fire chief said he was hoping that more than four new volunteers would sign up for the squad and that he is still hopeful more will join. He said that he thinks there is only a 5 percent chance of Princeton’s fire companies going paid M the next year. However, chances of a paid department would become much stronger in the next five to 10 years as the Princeton community changes.
“I was hoping for more, but realistically, the type of people who would sign up are just not in. Princeton,” he said, noting that a major reason for the deficiency of new volunteers is Princeton’s changing makeup.
The big, new office complexes along the U.S. Route I corridor are drawing an abundance of white collar workers into Princeton. he said. These white collar workers are squeezing the blue collar workers, who typically volunteer for the fire department, out of the community.
“The type of people (the Route I growth) brought (to Princeton) do not have time to volunteer,” Mr. Rendall said. “Volunteers are typically blue collar workers who sign up (for the department) after high school. Because of (the) growth on Route I, housing costs have gone up, making it difficult for blue collar workers to stay in town.”
Mr. Rendall noted that the white collar workers are outbidding the blue collar workers for what he terms the . “housing auction” in Princeton. There are not enough volunteers, according to Mr. Rendall, because a number of Princeton people do not know that their community’s fire department is all-volunteer.
“I think as long as word is out that we are a volunteer company, maybe there will be more volunteers down the road,” he said.
Township and borough officials formed an ad hoc group in August to alert Princeton residents that the fire companies need new volunteers. Members include Mr.Rendall, borough Fire Commissioner Mark Freda, township Fire Fire Commissioner Thomas Poole, First Aid Squad President David Cromwell, Brough Council President Marvin Reed and Margaret Van Dagens of J&M Advertising, the agency doing the publicity.
The group is advertising through posters, radio announcements and newspapers.
Mr.Freda said that Princeton needs “as many new volunteers as we can get.” He added that there is no “critical” shortage of firefighters right now but there could be down the road because fewer employers want to give their workers time off to help fight a fire.
At this time, there are about 20 active members and 25 “social” members in each of Princeton;s volunteer fire companies, which includes Hook & Ladder & Chemical Co., No.1; Engine Co. No.1, and Engine Co.3, Mr. Rendall said.
The social members are people who have served their time and are either too old to fight a fire or just not active.
He noted that it is important the fire companies get at least five new volunteers because of the annual attrition on the squad.
“Every year there is attrition where a couple of volunteers get too old to fight a fire or the younger volunteers get married and move out of Princeton to purchase a home,” he said.
The chief said he would like to see about 36 men or women volunteers sign up to be firefighters by the end of the recruitment drive. But he is pessimistic.
“I would have been really shocked if 30 people signed up,” he said.