It’s chili cookoff time. On Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m., West Windsor Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 will host its annual Mercer County Firehouse Chili Challenge. Fire departments from around the county will send their tastiest, fieriest recipes that will most likely make me cry as I am honored to be a chili judge this year.

One of the greatest things about West Windsor, other than the fact that our fire chiefs are incredible cooks, is that both fire departments are made up of volunteers.

In West Windsor, we don’t pay a fire district tax, which on average would add approximately $800 to our annual property taxes. Instead, we get these services practically free.

Collectively, our fire departments answer over 500 calls per year and log more than 15,000 hours of service. Together, the West Windsor Volunteer Fire Company and the Princeton Junction Volunteer Fire Company have over 100 volunteers who serve our town, two of whom are career paid fire fighters.

All volunteers go through the same rigorous training as career fire fighters and have full time jobs and families like the rest of us but are also “on call” to come to our aid 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

So here’s the ask: what our fire departments need most are volunteers of any shape and size.

You can be on the front lines as a fire fighter or fire police, you can serve as an associate member to help with administration and office tasks, you can be an auxiliary member to help with events and fundraisers, or you can write them a check.

When you consider what you are saving by not having “career” departments, a donation of at least $100 per household per year is not unreasonable.

In this year’s budget appropriations, the administration has not been able to give the fire departments what they have asked for without negatively impacting your tax liability, so I ask that you donate via the following links: and

Let’s step up and take care of those who take care of us.

— Ayesha Hamilton. Hamilton is a member of West Windsor Township Council and serves as liaison to public safety/emergency services.