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Princeton firefighters honored for heroic efforts during Tropical Storm Ida

Four Princeton Fire Department career firefighters pivoted from fighting fires to rescuing stranded motorists from floodwaters during Tropical Storm Ida in 2021. For their heroic efforts, they received special Unit Citation awards. PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL RATCLIFFE

Faced with a deluge of calls when Tropical Storm Ida struck the tri-state area in 2021, four Princeton Fire Department career firefighters pivoted from fighting fires to rescuing stranded motorists from floodwaters.

For their actions, firefighters Greg Griffis, George Luck III, Nicolas Sitek and Keith Wadsworth were awarded a special Unit Citation for plucking numerous motorists from their stranded cars overnight between Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, 2021.

The four firefighters were presented with the Unit Citation awards by Michael Yeh, Princeton’s director of Emergency Services, at a special ceremony Feb. 4.

“Tropical Storm Ida struck New Jersey with full force, causing catastrophic flooding in Mercer County and in Princeton. Tropical Storm Ida left our community isolated, with most of its roadways impassable due to record flooding,” Yeh said.

The first of many calls for help came in at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1 for a reported house fire, Yeh said. Mutual aid from surrounding fire departments was unavailable because of the extensive flooding, so the crew of firefighters was left on its own to handle the call.

As soon as the crew determined that there wasn’t a fire, the first of many calls began to pour in to rescue stranded motorists from rising floodwaters, Yeh said. They changed out of their firefighting gear and into their swift-water rescue gear.

The four firefighters-turned-swift-water rescuers made more than a dozen rescues of people who were trapped in their vehicles, Yeh said.

At times, the Princeton Fire Department’s special rescue truck had to maneuver around stranded vehicles on flooded roads en route to water rescue assignments, he said. The crew members pulled several motorists from their flooded vehicles while they were on their way to those assignments.

At one point, the crew was responding from a water rescue assignment on Cherry Valley Road when they came upon a stranded vehicle with its occupant trapped inside because of rising water levels, Yeh said.

Working as a team, the four firefighters were able to pluck the driver from the vehicle just before it was swept away by the current, he said.

Overnight between Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, 2021, the crew made multiple rescues that included victims on Mountain Avenue and The Great Road, Yeh said. They participated in a rescue on Rosedale Road, in which the victim was hoisted from atop a street light pole by a New Jersey State Police helicopter.

Working together with another first responder agency, the Princeton firefighters rescued a stranded motorist on Quaker Road just as the vehicle was about to be swept away by fast-moving flood waters, Yeh said.

“The actions taken by members of Rescue 60 – Griffis, Luck, Sitek and Wadsworth – were performed with the highest display of professionalism. These individuals worked flawlessly as a unit through their training and experience,” he said.

The crew put the lives of others before themselves and “truly went above and beyond the call of duty,” Yeh said.

“The community was fortunate that it did not suffer any loss of life because of these actions taken by the members of Rescue 60.”

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