The Princeton Junction Volunteer Fire Department is now equipped to deal with water-based emergencies.
The company has trained 11 of its members as swift water technicians and purchased necessary equipment—all at no cost to the township.
The department, which was formed in 1926 and has been providing fire and rescue services to the West Windsor area since, found this upgrade necessary based on recent weather patterns on both a local and national scale.
“A couple of years ago, we started seeing more calls for water rescue or getting flooding events in the township,” said Brian Doel, assistant chief, who has worked with the department for the past 12 years.
He said that hurricanes Irene, Sandy and a number of other summer storms came through and caused a lot of local and regionalized flooding.
“When the township floods, West Windsor almost becomes an island,” he said. “Since the roads are blocked, we can’t get help from outside agencies either,” Doel said.
In addition research has shown a trend in weather is causing more water-related emergencies,” he said.
“We have a member in our department who shared with us the updated flood maps for West Windsor and the generalized change in weather patterns,” said Doel. “The federal projection is that we should expect to see more rain and more flooding events.”
Doel said department members realized that they should take some action to improve their capabilities in these scenarios. They then decided to incorporate swift water rescue, a subset of technical rescue dealing in whitewater river conditions.
The department already had a few firefighters who were trained in this form of rescue, however they decided to train more volunteers so that they are ready to act efficiently in emergency scenarios.
“We’re seeing more people being trained in this area because of the change in the need for resources. Furthermore, because volunteers come and go, we have to keep training and keep improving,” Doel said.
The original cost for all the equipment, including a boat, trailer, floatation devices and personal protective equipment was around $30,000. However, the department made a connection with a fire department in Pennsylvania that was downscaling their swift water work, so they were able to buy all the necessary equipment for around $13,000.
These funds came from the department’s organizational fundraising. “We have a fixed budget from the township, so we do funding drives. We’re trying to increase our ability to provide service to the township,” Doel said.
The training itself was conducted for $4,000 by Milltown-based ERT Consultants LLC, which offers programs to emergency response professionals. “It’s an accredited training, and most of them are also members of the New Jersey Task Force, so they’re highly acclaimed experts in the area, and very well respected,” Doel said.
Members trained as swift water technicians are David Terzian, Brian Doel, Mike Yeh, Greg Griffis, Brian Foley, Susan Musa, Mike O’Malley, Jonathan Frank, Mark Nicholas Sitek, Edwin Arevalo and Anatoly Brunkovsky.
There are three levels of swift water training: awareness, operations (those that can participate in the rescue but onshore) and technician. Trainign took place with the firm earlier this spring to, initially in Delaware.
“The first few days was a classroom training, where they went over the components of the equipment and stages of rescue, along with concepts like water dynamics,” Doel said. “They really explain the theory behind how water rescue works,and the techniques they will need to employ.”
After that, they conducted practice sessions at the WaterWorks pool in West Windsor Community Park, where they went over the escalating steps of rescue.
“First, you want to see if you can reach the person. If not, then you should use a branch or stick, or you might want to throw something like a rope. Eventually, you will need to either use a boat or swim to them,” Doel said.
In the final stage, the department volunteers go with a class of instructors to a river, where they learn to enter the water safely, how to throw a rope and practice, how to launch and rescue boat.
Finally, they learn to overcome a strainer—obstructions in waterways that block objects, but not water.
The process of beginning and undergoing training was difficult for the department in many ways.
“Because it’s a volunteer department, people have day jobs or other commitments outside of this,” Doel said. “For training, people had to take even more time aside to make sure that they could do this, because it was a large commitment.”
He also pointed out that training could be extremely intense at times.
“This was very different from swimming in a pool for recreation,” he said. “People really needed to be physically ready in order to do this.”
Despite the difficulties, Doel praised the volunteers for overcoming and staying committed. “We’re very lucky to have a group of individuals that are willing to their time and energy into doing this training.”
The fire department will continue water rescue trainings with partner companies, such as drills with the Plainsboro Fire Company on the Scudders Mill Pond. They will also continue looking for ways to expand their capabilities, such as by adding communication headsets to their trucks.
Doel emphasized that he believes the team be a boon to the township. “The township has a group of skilled, dedicated volunteers here to support them when we have unforeseen weather events, so our residents can be assured that they have an immediate resources available in the town to support them,” he said.
The Princeton Junction Volunteer Fire Company is currently conducting its annual fund drive. For more information, go to pjfd.com.