29 January 1976
Fire Companies Hope Their Alarm Is Heard:
Some Engines Badly in Need of Replacement
Gleaming red paint and shiny chrome are cosmetics disguising the dowager status of some of Princeton’s firefighting equipment, and members of the three volunteer fire companies are once again trying to persuade Princeton’s two governing bodies to put a little aside for equipment replacement.
Their chances? Like a snowball in a general alarm fire.
This year’s chief, William Karch of Engine No. 3 (the one-year volunteer job rotates among the three companies) says three pieces of apparatus are in line for replacement. He likes to point a warning finger back to the late 1960s and early ’70s when the town had to buy three pieces of equipment within about three years. It was expensive.
“That 1949 Mack truck at Hook and Ladder,” he shakes his head, “it’s not intended for work at hydrants. Or Hook and Ladder’s Seagraves pumper, from 1955. It can work hydrants, but it has a small pumping capacity. Mercer No. 3’s 1958 high=pressure truck. It was used hard for still alarms until the early ’70s.”
Estimated cost for replacing the Mack: $62,000.
Princeton Community Village, in its high and rock township aerie, calls for a mini-attack pumper with four-wheel drive, Chief Karch believes. It travels roads where the big trucks can’t go, and it could be used to fight field fires, he says.
Council Opposed. Murray Medvin, Borough Council member who is Fire Commissioner, shakes his head, too, but for a different reason.
“Last year, I got the companies and chief to come before Council, but they just didn’t present a good case,” he says, “There was an overall negative feeling on Council and I don’t see anything in the way of fire apparatus coming up on the budget this year, either.”
Mr. Medvin thinks protection is perfectly adequate. When the population of the Township increases after the sewer moratorium, he says, then will be the time to consider expansion. He even talks about a fourth fire house, something man firemen regard with a shudder.
The Township itself, with its six-year capital budget, is ahead of the Borough in planning for the future. In the 1975 capital budget, there was $62,000 ear-marked for fire apparatus. Under the municipal cost-sharing formula, the Township would have paid $40,300 of that amount and the Borough $21,700. Looking down the range of years, the budget planned $25,000 for equipment in ’76, $69,000 in ’77 and skipping the following year, $80,000 in ’69.
But it never came off in ’75, so now everything has been moved back a year.
One only 3 years old. The newest piece of equipment is No. 3’s pumper, purchased in 1973. In 1972, there was the pumping engine for Engine No. 1 and in 1973, Hook and Ladder’s ladder truck.
You can’t buy a piece of fire apparatus right off the dealer’s floor. It takes several years before a truck is finally delivered, but Mr. Karch says that gap is shorter now because of the recession. And, he says, the longer the wait, the steeper the costs.
“The main concern of us on the Fire Board (officers of the three companies) is just to get people MOVING toward those last three pieces of equipment,” Mr. Karch emphasizes.
Parts replacements are difficult, he continues. Gears become old and worn, and once, on a piece of apparatus, they locked. He estimates 15 to 20 years as the life span of a pumping engine, in terms of a trade-in.
“Ours have no turn-in value, we keep them so long,” he says.
Insurance a Factor. One practical problem with old and oout-of-date equipment, Chief Karch says, is that is isn’t “rated.” That is, the insurance companies’ rating bureau doesn’t feel it meets contemporary standards. This can affect insurance rates.
The Borough has a “D” insurance rating, the Township an “E” rating – chiefly because distances are farther in the Township and water mains smaller. In a review of ratings, the Borough’ was upgraded, Chief Karch points out, because of the new apparatus and acquisition of the Plectron – the individual units in firemen;s homes that speed their responses to a fire.
After the fire in Prince University’s Moffet chemical labs, the companies got walkie-talkies, bought through emergency expenditures. Chief Karch credits former Fire Commissioner Arthur Morgan with pushing this through Council.
Now, the chief feels a need to replace the radios that are in each truck. They have one channel, but should have four-channel capability, according to the chief: one for Princeton, one for Mercer county, one for the University (“we need to talk to the University, ” he says. “What kind of chemicals in this fire, and so on”) and a fourth for growth.
Cooperation Sought. Some unhappy firemen say that Borough Administrator Robert F. Mooney, himself a fireman of many years’ standing, hasn’t supported them in getting appropriations from Council.
“After the Moffet fire, it was suggested to us that we write Mayor and Council and put some pressure on, ” the chief recalls. “It seems a shame to me that we would have to go through that.”
Chief Karch would like a citizens committee of residents interested in the fire companies. He thinks such a committee might be a helpful pressure group.
Sympathetic as Fire Commissioner, Mr. Medvin nevertheless points to smoldering financial problems – sewer costs, the effect of state school aid policies on Borough taxes – and he doesn’t think anybody will be climbing aboard a new and shiny fire engine for quite a few years.
Firemen Need Equipment. So far, the Borough hasn’t explored a capital budget. Council member Murray Medvin, who is the Fire Commissioner, told Thursday’s audience that he was concerned about the acquisition of new equipment and hoped that provision would be made for it.
“I favor it,” he said, “and I want the firemen to know I feel that way. Delivery on equipment takes so long – about two years. If we’d ordered equipment, we could have saved $25,000.”
Mayor Cawley said Council hadn’t seriously discussed purchase of new equipment.
Picture caption: ANTIQUE: This 1949 Mack truck, poised for action in front of its home, the Harrison Street headquarters of Hook and Ladder, is a piece of apparatus Fire Chief William Karch (left) would like to see replaced with a new model. Ralph Huilt Jr. (right) agrees.