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"Boots on the Ground" Launches in Camden

A new state pilot program has the ultimate goal of saving lives. Following a series of fires at abandoned warehouses in Camden last year, “Boots on the Ground” from the state Department of Environmental Protection is an effort to locate and identify hazards at abandoned properties across New Jersey, particularly in urban areas. Using the findings, the DEP hopes to protect firefighters and other emergency service personnel by making them aware of what they may encounter before showing up at the scene of a blaze.

Abandoned Camden property
Inside an abandoned Camden building (NJ Department of Environmental Protection)

The program’s trial period is underway in Camden, where 31 abandoned properties are being analyzed. Officials are cataloging hazardous materials, like propane tanks and paint cans that were left behind, as well as dangerous building features like weak beams and holes in the floor.

The findings are fed to a computer system utilized by dispatchers.

DEP Press Director Larry Ragonese explained, “If there’s a fire, an officer or fire official can connect through the mobile computer system or dispatch, locate that building, and find out exactly what might be in there.”

He said firefighters and other emergency responders are in a “very dangerous situation” when they have no idea of the hazards that are present.

Ragonese continued, “Is there still active heat or air conditioning? Are there pipes? Things that could cause problems when it comes to fires and public safety – that’s what we’ve been examining.”

The state hopes to expand “Boots on the Ground” to other areas, but not until they examine the success in Camden. Ragonese described the program as an intensive effort that takes a lot of manpower.

New Jersey environmentalists criticized the “Boots on the Ground” launch as a photo-op for the DEP.

“This is part of their overall PR strategy of trying to look like they are doing something when they are actually weakening protections,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is what we call a green scam.”

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