Firey fitness protest

April 26, 1994 (~estimated)

Firey fitness protest

Volunteers fear they won’t pass

By Laurie Lynn Strasser

Staff Writer

Fearing they would fail, Prince-ton firefighters Tuesday night blasted Princeton Borough’s proposal to give them mandatory physicals.

“There’s a lot of gentlemen here who would not even pass a physical,” said Michael Zorochin, one of 30 firefighters who attended Tuesday’s Borough Council meeting. “I would bet if you took a survey you wouldn’t have enough men to go fight a fire tonight.”

The proposed policy “would eliminate about 80 percent of the force,” Chief Roszel Warren said Thursday.

The standards are unrealistic if the department can’t recruit enough people to combat fires, Mayor Marvin Reed said Tuesday night.

“We’ve got to make it clear to the doctors that we’re not looking for a whole lot of people who are going to be eliminated,” he said.

Borough Administrator Thomas Shannon plans to discuss the matter further with the three company chiefs of the 270-member volunteer department, although no meeting has been scheduled.

Without certification that they were fit in the first place, injured firefighters might not be able to obtain workers compensation coverage, he said Tuesday.

The policy is a “proper and prudent risk management practice” that would “limit liability and workers compensation claims,” states an April 22 memorandum by Assistant Borough Administrator Marlena Schmid.

State law does not require all firefighters to pass medical exams, only those using the breathing apparatus (SCBA). Mr. Shannon said borough firefighters who use the breathing apparatus have not been complying with the law.

If the policy is adopted, Princeton will be the only town in Mercer County requiring a physical beyond the one administered to SCBA users. Mr. McKee said.

Under the proposed policy, regular medical examinations would be administered, at the borough’s expense, to all applicants, current firefighters and those wishing to return to duty after absence for health reasons.

Anyone who either failed or refused to submit to medical evaluation would be banned from fire scenes — even from driving fire trucks — and reassigned to desk jobs, equipment maintenance and training responsibilities, the policy states.

“I responded to almost 500 calls per year over the past 20 years —your homes or the ones next door. said Rick McKee of Engine Co.

…No. 1. “I’m obese. I smoke cigarettes and I’m over 45 years of age. If you put this in, I can’t even drive the truck to get it there.”

One of the main reasons Princeton’s firefighters are “so scared” is that most of them are over 40, Assistant Chief David Bogel said. The older the patient, the more stringent the health screening, he said.

The policy would require annual physicals for firefighters over the age of 40. Those in their 30s would need a physical every two years and those under 30 would need a physical every three years.

Each patient’s vision, hearing, blood pressure, lungs, urine, hemoglobin, cholestoral, skin, height and weight would be checked, along with medical and occupational history. For people over 40, a heart exam and stress test also would be recommended.

“I’m an old man and I’ll be darned if I want somebody telling me whether I have to go to a particular physician, telling me whether I can fight a fire or not,” Larry Dupraz of Harrison Street said Tuesday.

For years, any doctor could sign application forms to join the department, attesting that candidates were physically fit for duty, Mr. Shan-non said Thursday.

His office last month began requiring medical screening for initiates. Such pre-placement physicals are required for all borough employees, he said.

“We have to get away from when we used to go to (a doctor) on Nassau Street, when we’d go in there and he’d sign a paper,— Councilman Ray Wadsworth said at the meeting. “We have to go and have a good physical.”

Some firefighters suggested that several recruits have since been prevented from joining because of the new requirement. However, others in the department said the candidates were stalled because their paperwork had been lost.

Newcomers’ urine would be checked for drugs under the proposed policy. Testing for the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, would be conducted, but only if a physician deemed it necessary. “You’re telling me if I test positive for HIV you’re not going to let me work for the fire department?” Lt. Henry Tamasi asked.

Mike Perna of Engine Co. No. 3 asked why firefighters could not use their own doctors.

“With your own family doctor you develop a rapport and the habit of overlooking things,” Mayor Reed said.

By using one doctor, everyone will be measured against the same standards, Councilman Mark Freda said.

The safety manual from the borough’s insurance company, the Mercer County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, recommends departmentwide medical screening, but does not mandate it.

The borough’s proposal “mimics exactly” the standards of the National Fire Protection Association, which have been adopted by many departments nationwide, Mr. Shan-non said.

The state Firemen’s Relief As-sociation requires a medical exam only before new firefighters are initiated.

Princeton police must take physicals once a year.

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