Union says low staffing within Alexandria Fire Department threatens to shut down a fire station

The Alexandria Fire Department has reached a critical low with staffing, and the problem is so bad that it could shut down a fire station in the city.

This week, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2141 asked the public to sign a letter to send to City Council. The Fire Department agrees with the content of the letter, specifically that AFD is understaffed by 70 people.

“Due to this, some ambulances and engines are now in service without having any ALS (Advanced Life Support) personnel on board,” the letter says. “This means that, if an ambulance arrives today, the staff on board may not even be able to give a citizen ibuprofen, yet alone provide the life saving drugs or intravenous medicines needed on many of the emergency calls we perform.”

Additionally, while the city is undergoing large amounts of construction, dealing with flooding issues and bordered by highways that carry thousands of people every day, “City Management has put the Fire Department in a position where we cannot provide the services required to help citizens dealing with those emergency situations,” the letter says.

“(I)f this staffing shortage is not fixed, we believe that City Management will force the Fire Department to close down an entire fire station, limiting the services available to those residing in the community surrounding the shuttered station,” the letter says.

The problems go deeper. The union also says that the City Manager’s office has not approved a petition for representation election. The City, earlier this year, passed a collective bargaining ordinance and should have conducted an election for representation “no later than 45 days after submission,” although it has now been more than 100 days since the ordinance was unanimously approved by Council.

The union says that the lag has eliminated AFD’s ability to negotiate a new contract before the upcoming budget cycle.

“We’re talking about respect,” the union says. “We’re talking about being treated like we’re just disposable bodies to fill fire suits. Feeling that way about the management of a city, a city that we work to make healthy and safe everyday, at the risk of our health and safety, is awful.”

The Fire Department, Police Department and Sheriff’s Office all want raises, too, as they are among the lowest paid in the region.

Meanwhile, 27 new AFD recruits are starting their careers by learning how to cope with stress. Between September 28 to October 1, they’ll participate in a four-day mental and physical health, wellness, and resilience training workshop.

“This job can be mentally and physically exhausting so learning about nutrition and stress management can be beneficial throughout their entire careers,” said Lt. Steven Smith, a lead instructor for Recruit School 52. “We want to make sure we’re setting them up for success in every aspect of their careers and their lives.”