30 June 1982
Proposal for Extension of Fire Chief’s Term Has Many of Princeton’s Volunteers Fuming
It had begun to seem like Firemen’s Week in Princeton, what with the annual parade, a special training session, preliminary discussions about retaining a fire inspector and talk of extending the fire chief’s term from one year to three.
It was the chief’s term that sent the week — and many of the firemen — up in a cloud of fire and exploding brimstone.
“I am one of only two drivers, but I will submit my resignation tonight, if this ordinance is introduced,” declared fireman Larry Dupraz angrily, as Borough Council discussed the chiefs’ term at last Thursday’s work session.
It turned out that Mr. Dupraz was actually one of the milder opponents of the measure. Council member Richard Woodbridge, who is also Fire Commissioner, said that he and present Fire Chief Raymond Wadsworth had received telephone calls that sounded like three-alarm fires.
What angered most of the firemen was the procedure. Peter Hodge, foreman with Hook and Ladder, explained
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to Council that the proposal had not been given the approval of the 12-member Board of Engineers that constitutes a board of directors for the fire department, or even been presented to the general membership, many of whom learned about it when they read it in the newspapers.
“We can’t accept this proposal the way it came before Council,” Mr. Hodge said. “We don’t disagree with the concept, but it should have gone to the Board of Engineers for study, or to some objective party.”
As outlined by Chief Wadsworth and Mr. Woodbridge, the proposal would simply increase the term of the fire chief from one year to three. One year just isn’t enough time to do all you’d like to do. Chief Wadsworth remarked. Continuity is lost. Chief A has a project he’d like to get started. He barely gets it off the ground when Chief B takes over, with things he’d like to do. And so it goes.
But Council member Richard Macgill wasn’t so sure about a three-year term.
“There wouldn’t be any way to get rid of him,” he said. Mr. Macgill also pointed out that nothing in the books prevents a chief from being re-elected after his one-year term.
“It’s hard to overturn a 60-year tradition,” remarked Mayor Robert W. Cawley,
“unless the fire department makes its own rules. Council has the power to pass such an ordinance, or the department could do it with their own by-laws.”
Mr. Dupraz, who said it was the “dirtiest, underhanded thing” that members of the company had never been notified, did remark that it might indeed be wise to have a three-year term. He told Council that a man who had already been chief, had been nominated to be chief again, but lent
Mr. Hodge, who said he wasn’t aware that chiefs could be re-elected, foresaw problems of transition. He added that he was worried about subordinate officers in the “If a man has to wait 25 or 30 years to become chief – that’s difficult.” he said. And he expressed to Council his “urgent and fervent hope” that the governing body wouldn’t misconstrue opposition to the proposal as being divisive.
In the end, Mr. Woodbridge said he’d withdraw the proposal “if there is some assurance of movement, because the issue is serious enough to be addressed.”
“A 60-year tradition isn’t the tablets of Moses,” mused Council member Peter Bearse, but it means a pretty good argument must be made. I’d like to see the arguments on both sides fleshed out more.”
The question of a fire inspector, whether paid or volunteer, was on the June agenda of the Princeton Fire Commission, but because the Commission didn’t have a quorum, it was not discussed.
Inspections have been done according to Mr. Woodbridge. Big institutions, like the Medical Center or “Merwick” are inspected, but not some of he smaller ones, he said.
The Commission is expected o talk about the question this fall. Members of the Fire Commission, drawn from Borough and Township, are Charles Bardwell, Reginald Hackley, Eugene McPartland, William Rodweller (next year’s chief), Raymond Wadsworth (the current chief), George Griffing, Robert Mooney, Township Mayor Winthrop Pike, Ralph Hulit Jr. (last year’s chief) and Marian Green.
—Katharine H. Bretnall
DRESS PARADE: Members of Princeton’s fire companies line up for inspection at Borough Hall Friday evening after their annual parade, while youngsters perched on the Princeton Battle Monument, stand guard. Flowers carried by officers in the three companies are a tradition going back many years. Kitty Heermance, a former Princeton florist, gives the flowers in memory of her father, who thought Princeton’s fire parade needed a little color.