Princeton expected to hire six paid firefighters

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Edison Fire Department firetruck, Re. Co. No. 1

Princeton officials are on track to hire six paid firefighters to staff the Princeton Fire Department.

That action will result in the first paid firefighters in the department’s 231-year history.

The plan is to offer the six slots first to the Princeton Fire Department’s volunteer firefighters, and then to open it up to others if those positions are not filled, said Administrator Marc Dashield.

Applicants will take a written test, a physical agility test and then a formal interview with Princeton Fire Department personnel. Background checks and medical testing will be required.

The move to hire six full-time, paid firefighters grew out of a study of the Princeton Fire Department prepared by the Rodgers Group at the request of Princeton Council.

The consultant’s report offered 19 recommendations that addressed fire department operations and how it could encourage more volunteer members.

One of the recommendations called for establishing a more robust staffing plan for the Princeton Fire Department that includes hiring paid firefighters to provide for a more timely and consistent response to fire and other emergencies while steps are being taken to attract more volunteers.

The Princeton Fire Department, which has been all-volunteer since its inception in 1788, counts 81 members. Of those members, 29 are trained and qualified to fight fires.

But of those 29 volunteers, 10 to 15 respond a regular basis. Only about half of those volunteers live in Princeton. The remainder live out of town, which means it takes them longer to drive to the firehouse to respond to a call -and the longer it takes to get to a call.

While the report recommended hiring paid firefighters, it also offered strategies to attract volunteers. Robert Gregory, the director of the Department of Emergency and Safety Services, offered an update on those recommendations at a recent Princeton Council meeting.

Among the recommendations is to use social media to attract potential volunteer firefighters, Gregory said. Work is under way on a recruiting video, as well as an Instagram account.

A recruitment mailer, which seeks to attract volunteer firefighters for the Princeton Fire Department and volunteer emergency medical technicians for the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, has been sent out.

Potential volunteer firefighters can go to the town website at www.princetonnj.gov to learn how to become a volunteer firefighter, Gregory said. There is a form to fill out.

Volunteers become part of the “long, rich history” of the Princeton Fire Department, Gregory said.

In the meantime, volunteers are being encouraged to sign up for additional duty shifts beyond those that are required. A per-diem program also has been instituted and that is open to Princeton Fire Department volunteers.

The Princeton Fire Department also has plans to revive the junior firefighter program, which is open to 16- and 17-year-olds, Gregory said. There are plans to go into the schools to let students know about the junior firefighter program.

Junior firefighters may help out around the firehouse and learn from the volunteers, but they may not fight fires because they have not taken the required firefighter training.