Princeton area officials say do not dial ‘911’

22 December, 1989

Princeton area officials say do not dial ‘911’

By Barbara Preston
Staff Writer

Dialing 911 in the Princeton area could make an emergency situation worse according to fire officials.

The universally recognized emergency hotline does not yet exist in Princeton and the surrounding municipalities. Princeton Township fire inspector Ted Cashel said. It is however expected to be hooked up within the next couple of years.

Meanwhile Mr. Cashel wants people not to dial 911.

Television shows —”Rescue 911″ — and movies — “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” where Richard DreYfuss frantically screams “call 911″ after he finds a man drowning in his swimming pool” —mislead people into thinking they can dial 911 and that an ambulance, police car or fire truck will appear at their front door in minutes. This is far from the truth. Mr. Cashel said.

In fact, firefighters were delayed at two major Princeton fires because people dialed 911 instead of dialing the Princeton Borough or Princeton Township police departments directly, he said.

A five-minute delay in fire-fighters reaching a fire could mean the difference between lite and death. Yet there was is five- to 10-minute delay fast May when plumber dialed 911 to report a large fire at 1141 Stuart Road, according to Mr. Cashel.

The delay caused by dialing 911 added to other delays in that particular fire, Mr. Cashel said. The plumber fled the house looking to use a neighbor’s telephone. He knocked on several doors until he round a neighbor that-was home. Then he dialed 911.

Under the 911 system, caller would be connected to an emergency dispatcher that is designated by the caller’s Municipality. The telephone number, the telephone subscriber’s name and address would appear on the dispatcher’s computer screen.

The appropriate first aid squad fire company and/or police for the caller’s address would he alerted within seconds of the telephone.

But Dialing 911 in the Princeton area connects the caller to a regular operator. The plumber, in this case, tried to describe the fire and location to the operator but she ended up connecting him to a sheriff’s department. Mr. Cashel said. Nobody is sure which sheriff’s department.

The plumber was then transferred to the state police and eventually the Princeton volunteer fire department was alerted to the fire—which caused more than $2 million in damages according to a notice of claim sent to the Princeton Township attorney.

The home, which burned to the ground was owned by Arthur and Evelyn Krosnick. The plumber started the fire when his acetylene torch backfired while he was fixing the hot water heater in the basement.

Another delay in help happened on Dec. 5 when somebody in the home of James and Diane Burke of Constitution Hill. Princeton Township, dialed 911 when a small fire started in their basement, Mr. Cashel said.

The caller tried to explain to the operator that he had a gas leak and a fire and the operator wanted to connect him to Public Service Electric and Gas Co for the gas leak.

He wasted valuable time trying to explain to the operator that he lived in Princeton Township and had an emergency fire, Mr. Cashel said. The operator finally connected him with the township police department.

Dialing 911 caused about a three-minute delay in help, he said. “It is a delay that let the fire burn longer than it should have, ” he said.

The fire caused about $10,000 in damage to the Burke’s basement.

Gov. Tom Kean signed a bill into law in January to establish a statewide 911 emergency hotline. The system is expected to be in place by January 1992, according to the law.

However, the state’s hiring freeze is delaying progress on the statewide according to Capt. Joseph Saiia, director of the Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services.

“We still feel we can make the January 1992 deadline.” Capt. Saiia said noting that it depends on when the hiring freeze ends.

Now, there are only three employees working on the implementation of the system, he said.

“Right now it is just impossible to work without the sufficient staff.” the captain said.

He noted that he is trying to convince state officials that they should fully staff this project despite the state hiring freeze because of its importance, but he has not yet gotten permission. He needs eight full-time employees and two part time, he said.

Capt. Saiia added that the state will phase in the 911 system county by county. He suspects that the first country will be in northern New Jersey and it should be on line by July.

Counties in the northern part of the state are expected to be connected first, then central New Jersey counties and then the southern part of the state.

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