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The Alexandria Fire Department is ‘on fire,’ says union

It’s been nearly two months since the International Association of Firefighters Local 2141 tweeted about staff holdovers or equipment failure. For years the union has alerted the public of major outstanding issues, but their silence isn’t because things are getting better.

Things are just really busy, says union President Captain Josh Turner.

During the week of July 4, Turner worked more than 100 hours straight, in addition to leading the union’s collective bargaining negotiating team. Turner and his team are working with the city to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement by mid-November — just before the first City Council budget retreat.

“There’s a lot going on here,” said Union President Captain Josh Turner. “Everybody on the on the union side of negotiation team already works a 56-hour work week, and we continue to have staffing issues.”

Mayor Justin Wilson did not comment on what negotiated agreements with the Fire Department, Police Department and Sheriff’s unions could mean budget-wise for the city.

“The (City) Manager has certainly kept us updated on the ongoing negotiations with both the police and fire union,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We hope to conclude those negotiations in the next few weeks/months.”

Fire Chief Corey Smedley has attended a handful of the negotiating sessions, and said that his staff have received significant raises in the fiscal year 2023 budget, which went into effect July 1.

“The department needs everybody to do their part,” he told ALXnow. “Whether that’s our firefighters and paramedics on the front line, whether that’s our human resource professionals and other support staff, we need them to continue to do great work that they do every day.”

Smedley continued, “The frontline personnel, firefighters and paramedics have or will receive anywhere between a 9% and 12% raise this fiscal year, with the combination of their market scale adjustment and their merit increases.”

The fiscal year 2023 budget included a 7% raise for firefighters, medics and fire marshals; a 6% raise for Police Department and Sheriff’s Office staff and a 4.5% raise for general city employees.

The raise fell short of the 10% that the union wanted, and while the financial terms and conditions of the collective bargaining remain tightly under wraps, firefighters have been hit by inflation.

“The fire department’s on fire,” Turner said. “You can make $14,000 more a year as a paramedic in Loudoun County than you would here in the city. Frankly, our members live out there anyway because they can’t afford to live in Alexandria. I got guys going, ‘Hey, man, why would I stay? I love the community. I want to be here, but I’m driving through three counties, including the one that’s going to pay me more, to get to Alexandria.'”

In July, the union said that frequent equipment failures put the lives of residents at risk.

According to the Alexandria Fire Department, between August 2021 and August 2022, about three AFD staffers were held over per day.

The department has 289 sworn employees and 23 civilian employees, and the department needs 347 to be fully staffed. Additionally, 25 employees (sworn and civilian) left the department this year, and AFD training academy expects 19 new recruits to graduate in January.

Smedley says the department needs 26 more sworn and civilian positions, and that the FY2023 budget allows him to hire 20 staffers to fill the gap.

Additionally, Smedley said that AFD should, within the next several weeks, receive several new vehicles.

“We have also purchased some fleet that we are anticipating within the next couple of weeks receiving and being able to place in service so that we can ease some of the burden of our older fleet,” Smedley said. “We are receiving in the next couple of weeks to place in service five new ambulances.”

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