Eleven residents of Princeton were formally sworn in as volunteer members of the Princeton Fire Department and recognized for their deep commitment to community service.
The 2022 Firefighter Class commenced state-mandated training in January and is expected to complete a 200-hour course that includes lectures, practical training and examinations in June:
- Princeton Engine Co. No. 1: Amar Gautam, Rahul Gautam, Jonathan Haley, Max Nguyen
- Mercer Engine Co. No. 3: Johana De la Cruz, Jonathan Lowry, Jason Mangone, Shua- Kym McLean
- Princeton Hook and Ladder Company: Ilan Assayag, Christian Hartmanshenn, Chris Mecray
The ceremony took place in the Municipal Courtroom on May 25.
“These individuals have shown a deep commitment to our community and to protecting the health and safety of Princeton residents,” Mayor Mark Freda, who joined the Princeton Fire Department himself in 1974, said in a prepared statement. “Serving as a volunteer firefighter is a unique and rewarding endeavor – one that allows us to connect with our neighbors in times of need, and gives us an opportunity to build shared experiences and lifelong friendships. Personally, and on behalf of our community, I thank them for joining our other volunteer and paid firefighters as members of Princeton Fire Department. We are looking forward to more of our residents following in your footsteps.”
“This is a diverse group of people from all over the world — different ages, genders, races, and professional backgrounds — and we’ve really bonded over these past few months,” Chris Mecray, a finance professional, father of two, and resident of Princeton for 13 years, said in the statement. “I learned about the opportunity through [Deputy Chief] Alex Ridings, and the department’s most recent recruiting drive. It sounded intriguing, and something that the community really needs. I wasn’t even aware that this was largely a volunteer operation and that 70% of fire departments nationally are volunteer-led. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed challenges and even more than volunteering my time, this is a physical and emotional commitment.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has decreased 15% since 1984, yet the call volume has increased by nearly 300%, leaving volunteer fire departments like Princeton in need of additional volunteers, according to the statement.
Organized in 1788, the Princeton Fire Department is one of the oldest fire companies in New Jersey. In 2020, the Princeton Council approved the hiring of six full-time, paid firefighters, to support the volunteer membership in their response to more than 900 calls for service each year, according to the statement.
Local restaurant owner Amar Gautam moved to Princeton four years ago from Manhattan. He made the decision to join the fire department this winter, along with his brother, Rahul.
“I had a fire at my house soon after I moved here,” Gautam said in the statement. “It was at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and I got a chance to meet several people from the department. I met Alex and he shared his experiences being a part of the department. He made me aware that the base of volunteers has dramatically decreased over the past 20 years, and that it’s becoming a real problem.
“I was really kind of naïve to the whole thing. Now, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re more attuned to these people that make our community work, from clinic volunteers to EMTs, to the men and women doing the crosswalk. I feel like I can help and make a difference. So far, it’s been a fantastic experience. The 11 of us have grown close over the past five months, and I’m glad we all stuck with it.”
In addition to local volunteer and career members, the Princeton Fire Department maintains a unique partnership with Princeton University, which encourages employees to volunteer as Associate Member firefighters during the work week. Four members of the 2022 Firefighter Class – De la Cruz, Nguyen, McLean, and Lowry – are graduate students.
Princeton residents ages 16 and older are encouraged to join the Princeton Fire Department as volunteer members. Approved applicants receive free training and firefighter certification. For more information, visit www.princetonnj.gov/joinpfd.