Firefighters fume over physicals

April 26, 1994

Firefighters fume over physicals

By Peter Aseltine

Staff Writer

PRINCETON BOROUGH — How healthy are Princeton’s volunteer firefighters? Healthy enough to put out Princeton’s fires, and that’s about all local officials should need to know, firefighters say.

A large group of angry firefighters berated borough council Tuesday night over a proposed policy that would require every Prince-ton firefighter to pass periodic medical exams.

“There are a lot of people here who would not pass a physical. How do you think they feel about it?” said firefighter Michael Zorochin. “I bet if you took a survey, you wouldn’t have enough people left to go fight a fire tonight.”

Another firefighter, Rick McKee, held up a chart prepared by bor-ough officials that showed the elements of the proposed physical exams, which would be required every three years for those under 30, every two years for those in their 30s, and every year for those 40 or older.

“I fail the whole thing, including for cavities,” McKee said. “I’m obese; I smoke cigarettes; and I’m over 45. … I couldn’t even drive the truck.”

Yet McKee says he has gone on more than 500 fire runs for the Princeton Fire Department as one of its most active members. The department, which has about 140 members, serves both the borough and the township, but the borough sets its rules.

The department’s volunteers have always been required to pass a doctor’s exam before joining the department. In addition, state regulations require that any firefighter who wears an air tank during firefighting must pass an annual physical.

What made the firefighters furious was the proposal for periodic physicals for all firefighters. regard-less of their duties, and a new policy, already in place, requiring that any entrance physical be performed by a borough-appointed doctor, not one chosen by the firefighter. No state law mandates periodic physicals for all firefighters.


… can’t understand why the proposals are viewed so negatively, since the physicals would be paid for by the borough.

“Is it better to have someone come and get hurt at a fire because they’re not aware of a health condition they have?” said Councilman Mark Freda, a volunteer firefighter.

Councilman David Goldfarb, another firefighter, said the borough needs to protect itself because it is liable for injuries firefighters suffer while performing their duties.

“We face exposure because of the requirement that we cover the firefighters with worker’s compensation,” he said.

Firefighters complained about the vagueness of the proposed policy, which appears to exclude anyone who has a “serious medical condition” or who is not “physically fit” from any duties at a fire, limiting them to roles like record keeping and equipment maintenance.

“What is a serious medical condition? This doesn’t define anything,” complained firefighter Henry Tamasi.

Benjamin Warren, chief of the Princeton Fire Department, said firefighters can take care of themselves.

“We’re a brotherhood,” he said. “We look out for our own. We’ll say, `Hey, Joe. You don’t look that good. Don’t go in there.’ We know each other’s limitations, and we all watch each other. Safety is No. 1.”

Mayor Marvin Reed and members of council said they are not dead set on adopting the policy as drafted. “If you cannot recruit enough people under those standards, then they’re not the right standards for Princeton,” Reed said.

THE COUNCIL asked borough Administrator Tom Shannon to meet with fire officials to discuss the proposed rules.

“All these things are things I want to step back from, from taking hardened positions,” Shannon said yesterday. “I’m hoping that we can reach a cooperative compromise.”

Some firefighters said they are irate because elected officials are barging into the operations of the fire department, which is supposed to be run internally by a board of engineers.

“The other part of volunteer ‘has been left out — you’re not letting them run themselves,” said firefighter Norman Servis.

“Someone is pushing very damn hard for a paid department,” said Councilman Ray Wadsworth, a firefighter. He suggested overregulation of the department will send volunteers packing.

“We’ve got one great department of men and women working hard,” Wadsworth said. “Let’s all work together. That’s all I have to say.”

The borough’s fire commissioner, Councilwoman Mildred Trotnian, said the council did not want to be seen as an adversary to the fire: department.

“We sitting on this borough council and everyone living in Princeton deeply respect and humbly appreciate that you are a volunteer fire: department,” Trotman said.

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