The Fireman’s First Job — Fighting to Prevent Fires

Town Topics
6 February 1976

The Fireman’s First Job– Fighting to Prevent Fires

Firefighters do more than fight fires. In fact, they’d much rather prevent fires than fight them, and members of Princeton’s three volunteer companies spend a lot of volunteer time doing just that.

Princeton has 150 firemen– well, 149 firemen and 1 fire woman– and over the course of a year, these 150 volunteers inspect the places where public safety is important. And some places where private safety is vital, too. They don’t inspect private homes, even on request, because there just aren’t enough firemen for that big job.

SCHOOLS, first of all. Public schools are inspected once a year in August. Private schools aren’t inspected by Princeton’s firemen, but they must meet state standards of safety.

NURSERY SCHOOLS are, by state law, inspected every three years. “I’d prefer yearly inspections,” says fire chief William Karch. If a school receives any Federal money, Federal law requires a yearly inspection.

RETAIL STORES in the Nassau-Witherspoon area, in the Princeton Shopping Center along Route 206 — “there may be some we don’t hit,” the Chief says. These are done every year, too.

FEDERALLY-FUNDED projects must have their locations inspected. Besides nursery schools, this means Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church, where there are Federally-financed senior citizen lunches. The Institute for Defense Analyses’ old building was inspected, at IDA request, two or three years ago. The new building, although “Federally-funded,” has not been inspected. If IDA asks for inspection, firemen will oblige.


“We don’t inspect the University, but we’ve had very helpful talks with people there about chem labs– there’ve been a couple of chem lab fires — and they’ve explained to us the special problems.”

“We do have some areas of concern, like the Spelman dorms for example. They eliminated that service road that used to go to off University Place, but we arranged different ways to get in. There’s a fire-hydrant in the middle of the lawn there, and the University has promised to examine this and make an easier way to get our trucks in.”

“We’re concerned, too, about cars in the parking spaces, blocking the way. But I feel confident the University is working on this. Clubs on Prospect, we inspect them, too.”

When housing or commercial developments are presented to the Planning Board, a fireman is there to tell the board whether fire trucks can get around a cul-de-sac, or whether the turning radii in a development;s streets are adequate.

What are firemen looking for when they inspect?

Exits. Are there enough, and are the signs clearly visible and is there a completely clear passage to the door?

Electrical wiring. Enough outlets. Not too many extension cords?

In places like schools, Inspectors look into closets for stores paint and paint thinners, and, of course, rags. Nursery schools are apt to have things like wooden blocks, and lots of old rag dolls or cardboard puppet stages that could go up in a puff.

Stores must have proper exits, too. And almost all stores share the same fire problem – how do you put merchandise on the shelves without blocking the aisles? This particularly vexing for supermarkets, and firemen have admonished more than one to — leave those aisles clear!

Shop-lifting has led some stores to block off exits in way that make firemen very uncomfortable. One supermarket recently put up a low partition at entrance and exit doors to foil shoplifters. Firemen talked to the manager who has agreed to try for another solution that will keep merchandise out of pockets — and exits free and safe.

At a movie theater where patrons were pushing through a pair of doors into a crowded lobby without the formality of buying a ticket, the manager locked that door.

Can’t do that, said the firemen. So the manager took the outside handles off the door. The door is now unlocked and safe for exit — but you can’t get in from the outside.

The basement cabaret room on campus was inspected, too. Its two fire exits make it safe, firemen found.

On Nassau Street, a new motorbike shop caused uneasiness in the firehouses — all that gasoline storage. But storage has now been arranged differently and the firemen are satisfied.

Sometimes people will encounter what they think is a bad situation, and they’ll let a fireman know about it. Firemen always investigate these complaints.

In between, firemen check out hydrants around town to make sure they can be used if they are needed. They watch training films, reviewing the ways to fight different kinds of fires. Weather permitting, they go out for field training, especially for practice in driving the big trucks.

And when necessary — they fight fires.

Photo Captions:

START THEM YOUNG: School children learn at an early age what safety tips little people need to know.

EDUCATION: Can’t start too young to learn bout fire prevention. Tanis Vu, Riverside kindergartner, hears the word from Clinton Groover.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS: That’s chief Fire Chief Willian Karch in the center. First assistant chief Anthony Krystaponis is at the left and second assistant chief William Anderson at the right. Chiefs and assistants hold their job for one year. Mr. Krystapolis will be the 1977 chief, Mr. Anderson the top man for 1978.

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