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‘I’ve done what I could do for the City of Alexandria,’ says retiring Fire Chief Corey Smedley

Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley (on left) and Sheriff Sean Casey at the George Washington Birthday Parade in Old Town, Feb. 20, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Mutual respect, growth, and an ability to be vulnerable: That’s the kind of relationship retiring Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley wants with his next job, wherever that might be.

Smedley says he wants purpose, not a position, and that he’d like for the right opportunity to find him.

“I want that relationship to find me,” Smedley told ALXnow in a recent interview. “I’d love that relationship to be something that is mutually respected, where we can grow together and can be vulnerable with each other, that we support one another and will continue to grow in whatever fashion that looks like. So, I’m not necessarily looking for fire chief’s position.”

After more than three years at the helm of the department, the 51-year-old Smedley announced his retirement last week. His last day is January 12, after which Jim Schwartz, a former deputy county manager in Arlington, will act as interim Fire Chief as the city conducts a national search for Smedley’s replacement.

“I have some energy left in me and I plan on still using my talent while someone thinks my time is still usable,” Smedley said. “But at this moment in time, I’ve done what I could do in the City of Alexandria, and it’s time for me to move on.”

Smedley is the city’s first permanent Black fire chief, and led the department through the COVID-19 pandemic, and negotiated the first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the fire department’s union.

Smedley implemented a departmental restructure in 2021, shifting AFD responsibilities and resources to stations around the city. Now, with emergency medical incidents taking up 75% of calls for service, Smedley’s redeployment plan will go into effect in January, shuttering two fire engines and increasing the number of smaller Emergency Medical transport units staffed by firefighters/emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

Smedley says his AFD Forward plan more than makes up for City Manager Jim Parajon’s request that departments submit budget recommendations with a 1% reduction in expenditures ($650,000 for AFD).

Smedley said that his work as the deputy chief prepared him for the pandemic, since routine coverage plans for firefighters and EMTs had to change at a moment’s notice.

“The pandemic was a challenging time for us all,” he said. “When we get to a place where there’s a crisis, you will find those routine plans are going to get overwhelmed and you have to be courageous and confident with your team to try innovative things to accomplish your mission, and we were able to do that.”

A native of D.C., Smedley lives in Chesapeake Beach, Md. He worked 20 years with the Prince George’s County Fire Department before being hired by AFD in 2015 as the deputy fire chief of emergency management and homeland security. He was promoted to assistant fire chief of administration in early 2019, and was named the acting fire chief that summer after former Chief Robert Dubé retired.

“I think I came into the profession with some smarts but what I gained was wisdom,” Smedley said. “I’ve learned to not only build but maintain. I’ve learned to be confident with not being the smartest person in the world and allowing other people to shine. I’ve also learned that you know what? I’m not Jesus. I’m not going to save the world, but I am gonna do everything I can to make things better and sometimes I’m gonna take off. I’m gonna spend time with my family and be there with them.”

Smedley was recently named by Maryland Governor Wes Moore to the Maryland Fire Rescue Education Training Commission, a position he says is about continuing to perform public service.

“I want people to understand I came to Alexandria with energy vigor, a lot of compassion and passion,” he said. “I’m leaving that same way and that’s how I wanted to have my career go.”

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