30 June 1982
Firemen protest longer term for Princeton’s chief
by Ron Bartlett
Tensions have arisen among Princeton’s firefighters because of a proposal to extend the fire chief’s term from one to three years.
The reason for the concern, does not appear to be solely the proposal itself, but also involves the manner in which it appeared before the Princeton Borough Council for discussion. Those opposing the change at this time said either they were not adequately notified, or they felt that additional study is needed before any move is made.
“This is the dirtiest underhanded maneuver I’ve seen in the company in 30 years,” said Larry Dupraz, a driver for Mercer Engine Co. No. 3. at one point during council’s Thursday meeting. “If this thing passed, I would submit my resignation tonight.” he added.
Council members and the firefighters agreed that the introduction of an ordinance which would lengthen the chiefs term should be postponed. The Board of Engineers, a 12-member body which includes representatives of Princeton’s three fire companies and the municipalities. will study the proposal and return to council Sept. 14 with new ideas.
Supporters of a longer chiefs term said such a proposal has been discussed here in recent years, and Councilman Richard Woodbridge, the fire commissioner, noted that most other municipal companies have chiefs terms of 3 to 5 years, sometimes longer.
Strong points tor lengthening the term included allowing the chief more time to digest the complexity of the equipment firefighters now use, and the ability to perform more consistent long-range planning for the departments, said Mr. Woodbridge and Raymond Wadsworth, the present fire chief.
“A lot of guys have said that one year really is never enough time for them to do a good job,” said Mr. Wadsworth, “it’s a good chance for improvement,” added William Rodweller, the first assistant chief. “In past years, you never really could lay a finger on the chief’s achievements. One of the problems is that he just didn’t have time to set up a training program.”
But a point against a longer term, admitted Mr. Woodbridge, is that “individuals look forward to being chief, and if this is extended, some of those men may not have the opportunity to serve.”
The Board of Engineers was notified of the proposal, and discussed the idea at its May 27 meeting; at that time recommending further study, possibly by the municipal planner. The Fire Commission, a municipal review body, suggested introduction, Mr. Woodbridge said.
But Peter Hodge of the Board of Engineers, said the next time anyone heard about the proposal was by reading in newspapers that it was scheduled for introduction by the Borough Council.
“We could not accept the proposal in the manner in which it has come before council,” said Mr. Hodge. “We do see some shortcomings in a one-year term, but this should be brought back to the board, or another outside party, for review.”
Councilman Richard Macgill said the present ordinance is “the best of both worlds,” because it does not prohibit the firefighters from electing one of their members to successive chief’s terms if they chose to do so. Mr. Macgill himself said he was not a supporter of a three-year term.