Nottingham Volunteer Fire Company is located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, a forty-square-mile suburban community in the central western portion of New Jersey. Situated along the Delaware River, Hamilton is bordered to the north by the capitol city of Trenton and to the south by Burlington County. Nottingham VFC is one of ten companies covering the township. Nottingham's first-due coverage area is about seven square miles and has an estimated resident population of 20,000. Some 4,000 single family homes and several townhouse, condominium and apartment complexes call the district home, along with the usual assortment of strip malls, office and professional parks, restaurants and shops found in a typical suburban community. Nottingham's district is also home to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Hamilton, a growing hospital and health facility serving the region. The pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb has a clinical research facility on the RWJUH campus. Hamilton Township's 400-acre Veteran's Park is also in our coverage area.
There are actually two entities operating out of the Nottingham firehouse on Mercer Street in the Hamilton Square section of the township: the Nottingham Volunteer Fire Company, of course, and Hamilton Township Fire District #7. Nine fire districts cover Hamilton, each with a specific geographical area and five-member Board of Fire Commissioners, responsible for governing fire protection within its district.
Nottingham VFC is actually a private corporation, governed by its Constitution and By-Laws, the current version of which was adopted in April 2004. The fire company owns the firehouse on Mercer Street, the locally well-known Nottingham Ballroom adjacent to the firehouse and the property on which the building stands. Through membership in the company, the fire company provides the volunteer firefighters who serve the community. The fire company raises funds necessary for utilities, insurance, maintenance and improvements to the building and property through fund drives, donations and rental of the Nottingham Ballroom.
Operationally, Nottingham is headed by a volunteer fire chief. Operations officers, consisting of the chief, deputy chiefs, captains and lieutenants, are responsible for the workings of the company when emergencies occur and the establishment and administration of training programs for all officers and firefighters. All officers must meet minimum qualifications in order to be eligible to be candidates for office and all must continue further educational and training requirements to be eligible for reelection or advancement. Administratively, the fire company is headed by a president. The president, the executive officers (vice-president, secretary, treasurer, etc.)and trustees are elected by the membership-at-large. These individuals oversee the corporate side of the company, responsible for finance, insurance, maintenance and repair of the fire company properties and other business functions.
Hamilton Township Fire District #7 is a government entity and by way of property taxes, raises funds for fire protection. Thus, the taxpayers of the district own the fire apparatus, equipment and gear needed for serving the community. Fire District #7 is responsible for maintaining and repairing this equipment, the acquisition of new equipment and the upgrading or modernization of existing equipment. It also covers residual costs of the operation, such as fuel, insurance coverage of fire personnel and equipment and fire hydrant rental (those hydrants you see on public streets and the water mains that serve them are rented by the fire district, and hydrants in private communities are rented by their homeowners associations). There are five commissioners, each serving a three-year term and the terms are staggered so that either one or two terms are up for election annually. The fire commissioners and the annual fire district operating budget are voted on by the registered voters residing in Fire District #7. This election is mandated by New Jersey State Law and held the third Saturday of February each year.
The word "volunteer" is traditional in the fire company's official corporate name, going back to the founding of the company in 1925 when all of Hamilton Township was served exclusively by volunteers but Nottingham is actually a "combination" company, meaning it utilizes a blend of career (full-time paid) and volunteer personnel. Currently, there are 17 career personnel and about 25 active volunteer firefighters. Several of the career personnel are also members of Nottingham VFC.
The volunteers, being members of the company, function within the operational ranks of chief officer, line officer, driver-firefighter, firefighter, probationary firefighter, junior firefighter and fire police officer. On the corporate side, they are carried under various membership categories: active, associate, charter, exempt, honorary, junior and life. Volunteer firefighters must attend the required certification courses during their initial period in the company but are issued turnout gear and equipment immediately upon joining and are required to respond to calls and attend drills right away. So, some of their training comes from formal sessions and classes while some is acquired "on the job". They are required to maintain regular attendance at fire calls and drills in order to remain on the rolls of the company. Volunteer members basically respond to the firehouse from their homes when an alarm is transmitted.
The career staff are employed by Fire District #7, which provides their salaries and benefits. The career staff are civil service and must pass testing conducted by the NJ Department of Personnel to be placed on a hiring list. Appointments are made from this list when vacancies occur or when new positions are created. As is the case with most career personnel throughout Hamilton, all 17 of our career staff started out as volunteers, some having come from Nottingham and some coming from other companies. A breakdown of the 16 District #7 career firefighters is as follows:
Divided into four platoons, each with four personnel on duty at all times (one captain, one driver-firefighter and two firefighters) and working a 24-hour-on/72-hour-off schedule, which averages out to a 42-hour work week, the career firefighters are on duty every day of the year, including holidays and weekends. Their shifts begin at 7:00 am and end the next morning at 7:00 am. The captains command the platoons, responsible for firefighting operations, training, and overseeing work assignments. The driver-firefighters, as implied by the title, drive the first-due responding apparatus to an alarm and upon arrival at a scene, operate the apparatus (running the pumps, generators, aerial devices and so on). The firefighters are the ones on the front line at a fire or accident, directly involved in mitigating the emergency. In addition to firefighting duties, all career personnel handle operational and administrative duties, such as pre-incident-planning, record-keeping, data entry and the like. They also clean, maintain and repair apparatus and equipment and perform housekeeping duties in the public areas of the station.
The 17th career staff member is the fire marshal, who administrates the Fire Prevention Bureau and is on duty Monday thru Friday during normal daytime business hours. The fire marshal is responsible for enforcement of the New Jersey State Fire Code, which is required by law. This individual conducts fire inspections of businesses and public occupancies throughout the district, conducting nearly 1,000 inspections and re-inspections annually. The fire marshal is also responsible for fire investigations, determining the causes of fires and contributing factors to the spread of any fire. The fire marshal is also responsible for public fire education and fire prevention programs.
Nottingham operates three service vehicles (a Class A pumper, a 95' ladder tower and a 4x4 crewcab pickup) and three support vehicles (two command SUV's and an SUV for the Fire Prevention Bureau). All three service vehicles are equipped with EMS jumpkits and automated external defibrillators. The pumper, the ladder tower and the primary command SUV are each equipped with a thermal imaging camera. All vehicles have been purchased since 2001.
A 2005 E-One 95' ladder tower was delivered August 18th, 2005 and placed into service about a month later. Built by the E-One Fire Apparatus Company of Ocala, Florida, it has a 2,000 gpm pump, 300 gallon water tank and two 750 gpm monitors on the elevating platform. It carries a good complement of ground, roof and attic ladders. It was the first vehicle with our new red and black color scheme. It is the second-out unit on building and dwelling fires, gas leaks and alarm system activations in the district and is usually the first-out on calls outside of the district. It carries the radio designation "Tower 17".
A 2007 E-One 2,000 gpm pumper was delivered May 25th, 2007 and placed into service about two weeks later. The rig features rescue-style compartmentation and currently functions as a pumper. However, it was designed for adaption to future needs, such as vehicle extrication or hazardous materials, should these needs arise in the future. It features a 15 KW hydraulic generator, a 7,500 watt lightmast and a rear-mount pump. It carries 750 gallons of water. It has the same red and black paint scheme as the ladder tower. It is the first-out unit on just about all calls within the district and is known by the radio designation "Engine 17".
DISPATCH AND RESPONSE
When a resident of Hamilton Township dials 9-1-1 to report a fire, the call is initially received by a dispatcher at the Hamilton Township Police Department. After determining that the call is a fire emergency, the dispatcher then transfers the call to a dispatcher at the Mercer County Emergency Services Communications center. After obtaining the necessary information, the center uses computerized information to determine which fire company or companies will respond. Each fire company in Mercer County is assigned a station number. Nottingham is Station 17.
The center dispatches a "tone" over the airwaves, which activate pagers that are owned by the fire district and issued to the members. Each fire company has a unique tone, so only the members of the company whose tone has been transmitted will receive the alarm. After the tone is activated, the center will broadcast a voice message, alerting the members to the location of the emergency and its nature (structure fire, motor vehicle accident, alarm activation, etc.).
When an alarm is transmitted, the four career firefighters on duty will board the first unit assigned to the alarm and begin response immediately. As available volunteer firefighters and off-duty career firefighters report to the station, they will man and respond any additional apparatus assigned to the alarm. If additional units are not assigned or not needed, these members will stand by in quarters in case another alarm comes in, until the initial call is completed.
After an alarm, all firefighters, volunteer and career alike, will assist in any cleanup if needed and insure all equipment is back in service and ready for the next call.
Over the past couple of years, Nottingham has responded to an increasing number of fire and EMS calls each year. While there is still some new construction, it is expected that the number of responses should begin to level off in coming years as available land for building diminishes. In 2007, Nottingham answered 1,128 calls.