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Alexandria Fire Department struggling with staffing shortage and forced overtime

The Alexandria Fire Department is buckling under the strain of a staffing shortage and forced overtime, as firefighters, EMTs and medics say that their operations are not sustainable.

Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley says that staffing shortages within the department, which underwent a restructuring in June,  is resulting in an uptick in holdovers (forced overtime).

“Since 2016, The Alexandria Fire Department has been utilizing holdovers in order to maintain critical staffing of emergency medical and fire personnel citywide,” Smedley told ALXnow. “AFD has experienced high attrition rates, staffing relief challenges, and competition from surrounding fire departments.”

Alexandria first responders clocked in more than 8,500 overtime hours in June, according to the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

“We did this to ensure ALL residents of Alexandria City had access to the first responders they need when emergencies occur,” the IAFF Local 2141 said on social media. “There is no quick fix to solve this issue… At this point, we need to hire and train at least 35 additional Advanced Life Support staff members just to break even.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said “a perfect storm of factors” is leading to the crunch.

“The recent holdovers are quite disruptive for our staff and their families,” Wilson said. “Over the past several years, the City has grown Fire Department staffing, as we have moved to 4-person staffing (per engine). We have not included adequate relief staffing as we have grown positions, our dual role-firefighter/medic conversions have been slower than we would like, and we have a number of reassignments right now. Our Fire Department leadership is taking immediate actions to address the crunch we’re seeing this summer.”

Smedley says he is working on contingencies to relieve his staff. In the meantime, without any concrete moves from the city it looks like the earliest the department will start to see some relief is next spring, as the Department’s six-month training academy with 28 new recruits will kick off next month. Additionally, AFD needs to hire six funded staffing relief positions, while 20 other relief positions remain unfunded.

The Fire Department has been plagued by burnout and low morale, as AFD employees are among the lowest paid in the region. AFD currently has 285 employees, and 261 of them sworn officers. In fact, to break even the department says it needs 48 additional sworn staffers.

The union says that the reorganization plan isn’t working.

“The department reorganization plan is failing and being carried on the backs of our members and their families,” the union said in another post. “Requiring rank and file first responders to do 24 hours of forced overtime per week is unsustainable to our city and our department.”

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