On August 28, Princeton Fire Department Chief John Bennett released a letter detailing the status of Princeton’s water supply for firefighting, and reassuring the community that there are adequate water sources to meet current needs. Bennett answered questions that have been raised and described plans for future improvements.
Why did the former Princeton Inn at 30 Mountain Road burn down? Did lack of available water make the fire worse?
No. The fire burned in walls for two hours before it was detected, so the building could not be saved. The Princeton Fire Department used all 15,000 gallons of water in the cistern under the town common along with the 4,700 gallons of water on our responding fire trucks on the initial attack. We relied on tanker shuttles from surrounding towns and a tanker task force that came from as far away as Spencer and Uxbridge. All in all, we had 19 tankers respond and three ladder trucks on scene. It was the largest residential fire in this area in years. Lack of available water was not the problem. We estimate that we flowed over 770,000 gallons of water on the fire in total.
What is Princeton’s current fire safety rating? What does this mean for homeowners here?
Princeton was audited (after the fire at 30 Mountain Road) by the Insurance Services Office (ISO), a nationwide nonprofit organization that provides rating services to property insurance industries. ISO ratings, from Class 1 (highest) to Class 10 (lowest) are based on criteria including water availability, firefighting equipment and personnel, and fire response capabilities. A Class 1 would give you the best homeowners insurance rating and a Class 10 could make your home uninsurable or extremely expensive to insure. Effective November 1, Princeton will be given a rating of Class 5/5Y, which is an improvement from our previous rating of 6/9. Our rating improved because of recent improvements in our fleet, the addition of several fire ponds and dry hydrants, along with detailed service records, centralized dispatch, operational planning, emergency reporting, and fire engine pump capacity.
How does the FD obtain water for fighting fires?
There are three major sources of water for firefighting in rural areas like Princeton: water holes, storage tanks, and tanker trucks.
What is the most efficient and effective way to get water to fires?
Currently, the most efficient way is water on wheels. Our upcoming purchase of a used fire truck/tanker and the purchase of a 3,000-gallon tanker will give us 4,000 gallons of water on wheels at each of our two stations. These trucks will allow for immediate fire attack and water flow on scene. One year ago, we had only 4,700 gallons of water on wheels. By the end of 2018, we will have 8,000 gallons.
The second most efficient way is to lay large-diameter hoses and draft from waterholes within 1,500 feet of a fire. It takes 10 to 15 minutes, a dedicated truck, and personnel to conduct this method, but it’s practical for Princeton. “RELAY” signs on poles in town tell firefighters that they are 1,500 feet from a registered waterhole, and that is where we would place a relay pumper to extend the reach of the large-diameter hoses.
What is the status of our waterholes?
There are 34 registered waterholes in Princeton that are serviced and tested regularly by the fire department. We support the Boy Scouts and their Eagle Scout projects every year by allowing them to help us clear brush and clean up waterholes. Of the 34 waterholes in Princeton, only three are out of service: Hickory Drive, 24 Wheeler Road and 263 Hubbardston Road, due to silt problems and inability to maintain an effective water level. Existing waterholes cannot be repaired without extensive permitting that has an estimated environmental engineering cost of $20,000 per waterhole, due to watershed protection acts enforced by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Conservation Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Environmental Protection. We will be installing four dry hydrants at key locations where they will not have any environmental effect early this fall.
Ideally, the most efficient way to get water to fires is from pressurized fire hydrants. We only have two of these hydrants in Princeton, both in the Clearings development. They are pressurized via gravity feed from a higher altitude pond located in Byrn Corn Farm. We intend to replicate this concept with a hydrant located on Mountain Road and fed by Echo Lake. Our plan is to create pressurized hydrant districts using this concept, but it will be years in the making and must be funded appropriately.
Our second plan is to install 35,000-gallon water supply tanks at strategic locations in high population density areas. The estimated installation cost of each tank is $50,000. The minimum capacity recognized by ISO for fire suppression is 35,000 gallons.