Firefighters Fume Over Borough Plan To Require Physicals

May 14, 1994 (~estimated)

Firefighters Fume Over Borough Plan To Require Physicals

When the smoke cleared after a heated debate between a number of volunteer firefighters and Borough officials at last Tuesday night’s meeting of Borough Council, the scent of compromise was in the air.

About 30 volunteer firefighters were in the audience to hear Borough Administrator Tom Shannon outline his new plan on physical exams. Many did not like what they heard, and showed no shyness in making their positions known.

Currently, only those who are new to the Fire Department are required to take a physical exam. They may use any physician they choose.

Mr. Shannon’s suggested plan would also require physical exams by a Borough physician for those firefighters who use breathing apparatus. In addition, firefighters would be required to have a physical exam. also by a Borough physician, on a regular basis.

Those age 29 and under would need an exam every three years: between 30 and…

…39, every two years; and age 40 and above, annually.

While State law mandates thysical exams for those who ise breathing apparatus, there is no State regulation requiring regular physical exams for firefighters. Mr. Shannon said most firefighting authorities in the country recommend these, and he believes they are a good and rational idea.

But many Princeton firefighters disagree. “We do this voluntarily to help people,” said Henry Tamasi. “If I test positive for HIV, are you going to keep me out of the department?”

When one firefighter said he had worked with three administrations in Mercer County and all had referred employees to County physicians for physicals, another firefighter snapped. “Now we know what side you’re on, Buddy.”

Few Would Pass

Many in the audience seemed to feel that few firefighters could pass the physical, as outlined by the Borough. Firefighter Michael Zorochin said he bet that if a survey were taken of all the people in the audience who couldn’t pass a physical, there wouldn’t be enough people left to fight a fire.

Firefighter Rick McKee said he would fail the whole thing. I’m obese; I smoke cigarettes, and I’m over 45.”

Mayor Marvin Reed said that the Fire Department couldn’t cruit people under the promised new standards, they might not be best for Princeton. We have to make it clear that are not looking for a whole of people to be eliminated,” said the Mayor.

A number of firefighters complained that the proposed policy didn’t define a “serious medical condition,” although it appeared that such a condition would keep them from fighting fires.

Prefer Own Physician

After several firefighters said they preferred to use their own physician for an exam, Councilman Mark Freda, a volunteer fireman, said he felt this detail could be worked out.

Councilman Ray Wadsworth, another volunteer fireman, echoed the feelings of anger in the audience. “It seems in my mind that someone out there in the last few years is pushing for a paid Fire Department,” he said. “We’ve got to lay off. We have great men and women running our department.”

Mayor Marvin Reed replied, “We don’t want a paid Fire Department. We want them to remain healthy and be insured.” Councilwoman Mildred Trotman, the fire commis-sioner, added her support of the Fire Department, and expressed the appreciation of Council and the whole community for the volunteers’ efforts.

To stop any further fanning of the flames, Mayor Reed told the firefighters that Borough Council was just considering adoption of the new regula-tions. “We are not adopting anything yet.”

Will Meet with Chiefs

At meeting’s end, Mr. Shannon said he would meet with the chiefs of each of the three fire companies to talk to them about his recommendations. He hopes to develop with them a plan that would be satisfactory to the firefighters, and to bring this back to Council.

Mr. Shannon said he did not develop his plan in response to any insurance claim, but that he is concerned about insurance risks.

“The administration’s plan obviously needs some fine tuning,” said Mr. Freda. “A lot of thought and effort have gone into it. I hope the Fire Depart-ment reviews it and brings it back for discussion.”

“I realize I am not going to get everything I propose, said Mr. Shannon. “My goal is to bring back a plan that I feel would be sufficient and that the firefighters will endorse.”

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