New Firehouse Ready for October Occupancy; Borough Ready to Sell Chambers St. Building


9 September, 1992

New Firehouse Ready for October Occupancy; Borough Ready to Sell Chambers St. Building

Mercer Engine Company Packing up; Open House Will Be Held at Later Date

The construction trailers are gone from in front of the new firehouse on Witherspoon Street and the Township has issued a certificate of occupancy signifying that the building has passed inspections and may be occupied.

There is a “punch” list of miscellaneous items that still need unending to, but other-wise Mercer Engine Co. No. 3 can move in anytime. According to Ted Kopp, co-chairman with Ted Johnson of the company’s building committee, the members will be packing up their photographs, trophies and other memorabilia this month and expect to move their furniture and two fire engines from the Chambers Street station around October t. There will be an open house for the public sometime later in the year.

Designed by Fulmer 8 Wolfe, Princeton’s newest municipal building is a handsome and functional addition to the community, one that looks to the future while also maintaining the traditional spaces of a fire company that is 145 years old. Engine Co. No. 3 was founded in 1847. Its first firehouse was across the street from the one it has occupied on Chambers Street since 1935. The engine room across the front of the new building is twice the size of the one on Chambers Street, capable of accommodating four fire trucks instead of two, but the meeting room and recreation room are almost identical in size to the ones in the old firehouse. New spaces are the men’s and women’s bunk and shower rooms, an exercise room, offices and a shop.

A key feature of the new firehouse is the second floor dispatcher’s room located above the entry porch. The windows of this room jut out from the facade on three sides, blowing those inside to look not only up and down Witherspoon Street and to the Valley Road intersection but also to one into the engine bays. The doors to the engine bays can be opened and closed from within this room as well as from the ground floor entrance, and the fire engine drivers can be guided into and out of the bays by the dispatcher.

An underground electrical connection to the proposed traffic light at the Witherspoon and Valley Road intersection is already in place, so that when the light is installed, the dispatcher will be able to bop traffic in all four directions to allow the fire trucks to pass through safely.

The dispatcher’s room is the nerve center where radio and communications equipment will be located along with street maps showing locations of fire hydrants. to time, accenting to deputy chief Ray Bianca and longtime member Larry DuPraz, who took a reporter on a tour, this room could become the dispatch center for the entire fire department, relieving the Borough and Township police departments from serving in this capacity.

At 3,830 square feet, nearly one quarter of the entire 13,700-square-foot building, the engine room is a huge space, 23 feet or two stories high. According to Bill Wolfe, the architect, the height, although somewhat more than needed to house the fire trucks, was dictated by the desire to keep the basic construction simple and economical. A lower height would have meant a different redline be-tween the engine room and the rest of the two-story building. The walls of the engine room are exposed mason block painted gray with dark pink ac-cents. Despite its seemingly F proof construction—brick exterior with limestone and aluminum trim and mason block interior walls — the building was required by state code to be fully sprinklered. Red fire alarms and gongs are conspicuous everywhere.

All the utility pipes and ducts have been color-coded — green for the water that will be used within the building, red for water that will be used in the sprinkler system, still other colors for the as supply and re-turn and for gas. The utilities are concentrated m the corridors where they have been let t exposed for easy access.

There is one corridor directly behind the engine room and another along its inside wall. As Mr. Wolfe puts it, the corridors serve as L-shaped streets separating social use from work areas. Members of the public who may be using the downstairs recreation room and adjoining kitchen will not have access to the fire company areas.

Open lockers for firefighters’ gear are arranged all along the back wall of the engine room. Off the back corridor are spaces for two hose dryers, something the members are particularly looking forward to, as well as a shop and the mechanical robin. Because different areas of the building serve different functions, the building has four heating zones and there are four separate furnaces in this room. There is also a backup generator that runs on natural gas in case of power failure.

Parking for Firemen

Parking for Firemen A door from the Board of Education parking lot in the rear provides a secondary access for firefighters. One of the problems at the Chambers Street Location was the difficulty Engine Co. No. 3 volunteers had finding a place to park their cars when responding to a fire. At the new firehouse, parking spaces are provided near the front entrance in an area of corrugated concrete overlaid with topsoil and planted in grass. The purpose was to add a little greenery to the front of the building as well as provide dedicated parking for firefighters.

The back entrance, with its stairway to the second floor fire company areas, is another demarcation between fire company space and public space. Men and women’s toilet facilities. a fully equipped kitchen and the recreation room are all located to one side of this back hallway.

The recreation room and meeting room above it are recreations of similar rooms at the Chambers Street facility, although there the recreation room was in the basement. Here both have light wood paneling and plenty of windows.

At one end of the recreation room is a large bar, a replica of the one that was at both Chambers Street firehouses. A fireplace with a simple mantel, also a to Chambers Street, is angled in one corner of the far end of the room, and a big television is angled at the other corner.

This room will contain the company pool table, banquet table, and couches and chairs clustered at the far end. The walls above the wood paneling have been painted the dark green of the pool table and the bar top and will be hung with photographs and memorabilia.

Next to it is a kitchen capable of serving up big banquets as well as making coffee. Company members had asked for a standard residential-type kitchen, but because of the adjacency, size and possible public use of the recreation room, health code requirements for a commercial kitchen had lobe met. The kitchen has a professional range with a hood that includes a fire suppressant system; three big sinks, phis a separate sink for handwashing; a big refrigerator; a microwave and plenty of cabinets. Next to it are restroom facilities that are wheelchair accessible.

With these fn. facilities, one can imagine the annual New Year’s Day party held after the municipal reorganizing meetings taking place here, and possibly alternating with Hook & Ladder in future years. Fire company officials say this is a definite possibility.

There is a doorway to this room from the entrance vestibule and also from the corridor leading back to the kitchen and maroon. A row of coat hooks lines this corridor to one side, with a window and entrance to the engine room on the other side.

The main staircase is by the entrance vestibule. The historic bell that hung in a cupola above the company’s two previous firehouses and was used to summon firefighters in the days before radio electronics is on the staircase landing. It has been painted the same warm rose color that occurs in the engine room.

Company Meeting Room

Directly above the recreation room is the company meeting room, designed to replicate the arched ceiling in the Chambers Street firehouse and to accommodate the company’s oriental rugs and traditional seating. The company’s large dark red trophy case has been installed at one end.

The arched supports for the acoustical ceiling have been painted a light Mite, picking up on a color in the rugs. The recrmtion room floor and the corridor floors are terrazzo for durability but the meeting room has a parquet wood floor.

The upstairs corridors form a mezzaaine with windows looking down into the engine room. The back corridor leads to an exerciseroom painted a light yellow with utilitarian blue carpeting. This room is big enough to bold a couple of stationary bicycles, a stairmaster, and weight lifting equipment. The company does not own any of these things at present, but in time this facility will be available for the use of the entire fire department.

Next to the excercise room is an office for the chief, also painted a light yellow. This could also be the location for a part-time person employed to handle the voluminous paper work and reports that are required of fire companies nowadays.

A men’s bunkroom capable of accommodating up to six bunks and a much smaller women’s bunkroom are also located on the second floor, each with an adjoining shower room. These bunkrovms will be used by volunteers during snowstorms, but they also an-ticipate a time when the rye department will add paid pro-fessionals to its roster.

“I hope when younger mem-bers of the community see this facility they will want to join,” said Mr. Bianca. Princeton has had a proud tradition of volunteer firetighters and neither the fire companies or the govern-ing bodies really wants to see the tradition changed.

An underlying purpose of the new building was “to enhance the time that volunteers spend at the station and to that extent strengthen the volunteer tradition,” as Mr. Wolfe wrote in his description of the final design of the building in 1989.

Company Meeting Room

The new firehouse is the first to be built in the Township. It was one of the recommendations of the 1985 Shand Report, an analysis of the entire Rime-ton fire department, its facili-ties and equipment as well as the recruitment and training of volunteers, by Thomas Shand, a fire protection engineer. Several years passed while Borough and Township Cried to work out the details of where it would be located and how it would be paid for.

Inititally, members of Engine Co. No. 3 were resistant to moving from the firehouse they had occupied for nearly 60 years. Now, aslthough somewhat awed by the splendid new facility, they seem truly pleased by the prospect of thier new home.

“It’s going to be very, very pleasrubale,” says Mr. Kopp, whose grandfather, Edward Kopp Sr., was a member of the building committee that over saw the construction of the existing Chambers Street firehouse. “A great deal of thought went into it, and I think the town will be very happy with the building.

Built for the future

“Some of the space is frank-ly more than what is needed, but it is logical to build for the future, and the day of the volunteer may be numbered.” His co-chairman Tom Johnson agrees. “I’m very happy. I like the decor, and we got basi-cally everything we wanted.” President David Mohney is even more effusive. “We’re thrilled and delighted that this house has been built for us.” All three say that after all the delays in getting approvals, in construction and delivery of materials, Engine Co. No. 3 is not in a hurry to move in before the punch list is completed.

Mr. Mohney says the move will be low key, and the open house will be delayed until after the pictures are hung and the company is settled in. It will not he the typical free-beers-for-all-the-neighboring-fire-companies type of affair but a true open house so that Princeton residents can tour the first new municipal facility to be built in more than a decade.

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