Firefighters strut their stuff

Firefighters strut their stuff

Pam Hersh

I felt as though I were being dressed for a starring role in a movie. One person removed my big, funky earrings. Another tucked my little, white gloves into my waistband so the gloves wouldn’t bunch up. A third individual set my hat properly on my head and snapped my bow tie in place. I had the job of tying the laces on my white sneakers.

Even though a friend of mine said I looked as though I were playing Mary the Merry Meter Maid, I actually got all decked out for a featured part in last week’s Princeton Fire Department’s Inspection Parade. As a member of the Hook and Ladder Ladies Auxiliary, I — along with my auxiliary member colleagues and all the Department’s firefighters — marched in the parade that allegedly was to display the equipment of the three fire companies.

The written script called for the mayors of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township to “inspect” the tools of the firefighting trade. In fact. the parade deviated from the script. It had little to do with machines and mostly to do with men, women, children, their connection with one another, and their commitment to serving the Princeton community.

LIKE MOST movie stars, the members of the Fire Department have suffered moments of adverse publicity and fluctuating popularity. The Department recently has been in the news concerning its adversarial relationship with Borough Council over equipment purchases and physical fitness standards. Last week, headlines blared charges of potential health hazards in the Fire Department.

Longtime firefighter Rick Glas offered an explicit, if not particularly eloquent, analogy. “The Fire Department is the outhouse of the community. People take it for granted, don’t think much about it, and even insult it — until a crisis arises and they really need it. Then suddenly the Fire Department, like the outhouse, assumes a status of great importance.”

HOWEVER, thanks to the outstanding players, the true star quality of the Department shone through during the June 24 parade —and there was no fire, no public safety crisis.

The marchers represented the social, cultural, ethnic, economic, and religious diversity of the Princeton community. Oldtimers with a family tradition of decades of Fire Department involvement mingled with newcomers; professionals with blue-collar workers; yuppies with townies; senior citizens with toddlers. Dan Tomalin’s fiancee proudly noted that Dan, a 1987 Princeton High School graduate, is the Department’s first African-American officer in re-corded Fire Department history.

The diverse members of the Department shared a common purpose — a determination to march and to demonstrate their commitment to serving the town. In spite of the torrential rain storm that occurred precisely when the parade was supposed to begin, no one suggested cancelling the event. Everyone knew the show must go on, and the players were determined to be in the show.

MY TECHNICAL performance in the show was just so, so. I had trouble synchronizing with the right feet. Three-year-old Jesse Hinkson marching with her dad did a much better job with the right-foot, left-foot routine.

No one hollared at me, no one gave me a bad review. People along Nassau Street still clapped, waved and cheered. The mechanics of the marchers and the machines they displayed really didn’t matter. This was a show of mettle, not metal.

Pam Hersh is a Princeton resident.

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