The one-year pilot program, a collaborative effort between the fire department and the University that is set to launch later this spring, will include about 30 University employees from Facilities and Public Safety who are trained or will receive training. The current force includes between 30 and 35 volunteers.
After a customary background check and physical, the volunteers will be on call on rotating shifts throughout the business week, Fire Chief Daniel Tomalin said in an interview. In the event of an emergency, all of the University volunteers may be asked to respond.
As the department is run entirely by volunteers, a current lack of firefighters currently impairs the station’s ability to respond to calls, Tomalin explained. Weekdays are particularly difficult to cover, he added, as many of the regular volunteers with day jobs are unable to respond.
Tomalin and Roger Demareski, assistant vice president for facilities for plant and one of the plan’s principal organizers, both said this issue was a major factor in establishing the pilot program.
The University volunteers will be associate members of the station, a rank created specifically for them by the Borough Council at its March 24 meeting.
In addition to responding to fires, Princeton staff members will be required to attend monthly training sessions and drills. They will not be able to vote on station issues, and they’ll be exempt from certain other responsibilities of full members of the station.
Applying to take part in the pilot program has been limited to the two University departments because many of their staff members have already received firefighting training. Those who have not received the training but still want to volunteer will need to take Firefighter 1, the state-mandated course for firefighting certification.
The program may eventually become available to University employees across all departments if the program develops successfully, Demareski said.
“After we work out any issues, we would expand [the program] to the University community,” Demareski explained, adding that he hoped even students will be able to take part.
Tomalin also said he hoped to incorporate students in the program to improve the fire department’s response times.
“We don’t have as many volunteers as we used to,” he said.
The program does not come without costs for those who want to become volunteer firefighters. The fire department will cover the cost of taking the necessary courses for certification, Tomalin said, adding that the University also has tentative plans to offer a class on campus.
The University has also agreed not to penalize the volunteers for any time spent responding to calls during their working hours.
“Any time an employee [responds] to a fire call, certainly they’re not being productive here,” Demareski said. “It’s an expense to the University, but we recognize the importance of having fire protection.”
The University has been very cooperative with the station’s efforts in creating the program, Tomalin said. The launch of the program comes after a year of organizing from the University, Borough officials and the fire department.
“We’re very grateful that the University is willing to come on board with this,” he added.