29 March, 1988
Time has come to decide where to put a new firehouse
While Princeton Borough and Township officials are fiddling around about where to put a new firehouse, several firefighters are hot under the collar about the delays. Fortunately, Princeton is not burning—not yet anyway. The potential, however, is there, unless the municipal officials with the support of Princeton residents chose a site quickly for the towns’ much needed fire-house.
Princeton, infamous for its decision-making paralysis concerning a parking garage, must exhibit a different behavior when it comes to a facility for parking firefighting apparatus. Lack of a parking garage may damage the economy of the downtown, but lack of a firehouse may destroy lives.
The urgency of the situation stems from the inadequacy of the Chambers Street firehouse. Fire trucks are often blocked from exiting, because cars and trucks are parked in front of the driveway and because of the traffic congestion on the street. Fire officials say that countless times during the past five year — including once last week — volunteers were unable to get a truck out of the bays to answer an alarm. When the Palmer Square Hulfish Street development is completed, the situation will deteriorate even further.
Since the first five minutes are the most important when it comes to saving lives of those trapped in a building, the slightest impediment to a firetruck can cause a fatality.
More than three years ago, the municipalities got a report evaluating the fire-fighting facilities in Princeton Borough and Township. Among the report’s many recommendations was a new firehouse. Originally, groundbreaking for a new facility was scheduled for May 1987. During the past year consideration of a site has centered on various parcels of township and school board owned land in the Witherspoon Street-Valley Road area. Neighbors, planners, school board members, township and municipal officials have all been very efficient at finding flaws with every possible site.
Last week, Princeton Township Committee set aside $7,500 for yet another firehouse study—the third, to be precise. The site under consideration is the Valley Road School site, already studied and rejected once by the school board. Apparently, new promises by the township to sign a long-term lease for use of the Valley Road School building may convince the schoOl board that the leper firehouse won’t jeopardize the financial assets of the building.
It is mandatory that school board, township borough, fire department members, municipal engineers, police and neighbors finally be as efficient at saying “yen” to this site as they have been at naysaying the others. They should be sequestered like a : jury until a decision is made. If everyone cooperates, fire department officials estimate the towns could have a new firehouse by the end of 1988.
Citizen’s indifference also smarts
More distressing than the long debates over the firehouse location is the apparent indifference on the part of the public.
There is not only insufficient public outcry about the dragged-out site negotiations, but also inadequate support for the fire department’s $2 million fund drive to help finance the construction of the new firehouse and renovations to the existing ones.
The fire department, celebrating its 200th anniversary on May 14, is conducting its first fund drive in over 100 years. The 135 volunteer firefighters — male and female (two females), ages ranging from 18 to 90 years old, rich and poor, blue collar and. white collar — are trying ld raise the money no the municipalities won’t have to raise taxes for the improvements. One fund-raising technique is to sell advertisements for a Fire Department Bicentennial program honoring the past and present members of the department. Thus far, solicitations for these ads have yielded only 65 ads from the two Princeton’s’ more than 300 businesses and only a handful from the towns’ 32,000 residents.
Firefighting used to be a revered activity, the center of a town’s social life. Little kids once upon a time wanted to WOW up and become firefighters, not corporate executives. Firefighting has become the stepchild rather than the favorite son of society. We need to clear away the smoke of our busy and self-centered lives and see our way to adopting a positive attitude about this most crucial community service.