Post Content

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.”

4 Comments

With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.

Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.

5 Comments

After concern that his officers were working too much overtime, Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley temporarily put an engine out of service on Sunday night (Dec. 19).

The move was enough to prompt the International Association of Firefighters’ Local 2141 to put out a public safety alert on social media.

Smedley said that fire apparatus go out of service all the time for a number of issues, including training, maintenance, and community outreach events. Still, he said, staff have continued to express concern over working mandatory overtime, and says it is impacting their lives, from “child care issues to mental exhaustion.”

“I was also concerned about some who were on shift and approaching maximum consecutive work hours,” Smedley told ALXnow. “Considering all of these factors and the high rate of those working mandatory overtime, the Fire Department initiated a portion of its continuity of operations plan by placing Engine 205 out of service at 7 p.m. on December 19 to relieve some of the pressure on our workforce.”

The unions tweeted that such reductions are now common occurrences, and that other closures have been made in recent months.

AFD is currently understaffed by 23%, with 281 first responders working in a department that needs 347 to be fully staffed. Just last week, the union stated that AFD’s staffing issues put lives and property at risk in a Dec. 4 fire in Crystal City.

The engine returned to service the following day.

“Based on our data, this was the least impactful timeframe of the day for call volume,” Smedley said. “We ensured advanced medical service was covered across the city by moving the engine’s paramedic to Truck 205 and informing our mutual aid partners of the temporary change in operations.”

0 Comments

Understaffing within the Alexandria Fire Department put people and buildings at risk during a fire at Crystal City’s restaurant row on 23rd Street earlier this month, according to two unions representing more than 500 Alexandria and Arlington firefighters, medics and fire marshals.

In a sharply worded press release on Friday, Dec. 10, officials from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2141 and IAFF Local 2800 wrote that AFD’s inability to fully staff their department led to “multiple close calls” at a fire on Saturday, Dec. 4, in the 500 block of 23rd Street. No one was injured in the blaze, which caused $1.8 million in damages.

“The City’s been playing with fire for awhile now” said Josh Turner, President of Local 2141. “It’s an unnecessary game of Russian roulette putting lives at risk, solely due to the City’s inability to recruit and retain employees for our department.”

What resulted, the unions said, was a call for service where firefighters were short staffed, and Alexandria did not send both and Engine Company (which extinguishes fires) and Rescue Company (removes obstructions and rescues victims) to the scene — only a Rescue Company. The unions reported that when a Rescue Company in South Arlington was responding to another call, Arlington and Alexandria had to follow a “short staffing” procedure that brought only a single AFD engine to the fire.

A Rescue Company from Fairfax County instead had to to report to the scene.

“The initial call should have had a minimum 12 firefighters dispatched for tasks like putting up ladders, forcible entry and search and rescue. Instead there were only 8 dispatched,” said Brian Lynch, President of IAFF Local 2800, representing uniformed members of the Arlington County Fire Department. “That is the equivalent of fielding a football team with only a portion of your offensive line. The job got done this time, but we cannot be putting families, businesses and firefighters at this kind of risk.”

Lynch continued, “Firefighters conducting fire attack and searching the second floor for victims encountered extreme and nearly deadly fire behavior, which forced them to rapidly evacuate. Eventually the second floor collapsed. Luckily, firefighters on the scene from other functions like EMS or standing by to rescue trapped firefighters were able to help with some fire operations. But we should not be relying on that, especially for a call like this – both businesses were occupied at the start of the fire, thankfully there were not multiple patients, or firefighters that could not rescue themselves. This could have ended very badly.”

Alexandria’s Rescue Company has been reportedly been understaffed since August 12.

Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley says he’s having constant conversations with local union groups, and says he has spoken with the incoming City Manager Jim Parajon about hiring additional staff and employee compensation.

“We’re in a challenging space right now.,” Smedley said. “We need more resources, and we’re working toward that. But the community will get responded to and they will have the appropriate people there to mitigate their emergency. At the same time, I need to make sure we have the appropriate staffing for first responders so that they can also have the confidence that they’re going to be taken care of in those very risky situations.”

Smedley also said he’s been concerned with the number of hours his people are working, and recently reduced the maximum number of consecutive hours they are allowed to work.

“Some of them were working up to 72 hours straight, and that was not safe,” Smedley said. “I cannot continue and I did not continue to allow them to put themselves and for us to allow them to put themselves into harm’s way.”

There are now 281 first responders within AFD, Smedley said, and the the department needs 347 to be fully staffed. As it stands, there are 27 recruits in the Fire Academy, and they are scheduled to graduate in the first quarter of next year. Smedley said he hoped to hire 30 more recruits to get additional relief.

Smedley will soon travel to Arlington, Texas, where Parajon is the outgoing assistant city manager. There, he says, he will talk to the fire chief about lessons learned and best practices to get things moving forward in Alexandria.

2 Comment

Morning Notes

Police say no foul play suspected after body found in Four Mile Run Park — “Police activity in park behind 3900 block of Mt. Vernon has cleared. An adult male subject was found in the park. At this time, it does not appear to be suspicious. This is a Medical Examiner’s case.” [Twitter]

Fire Chief Smedley promotes staff — “In addition to promoting Lt. Sharpe and EMS Lt. Prodoehl, @SmedleyCorey promoted 18 other Lieutenants, EMS Lieutenants, and Captains. We’re celebrating the promotion of about 8% of our department. Congratulations to our new officers and thank you for everything you do!” [Twitter]

Ballyshaners to celebrate halfway point to St. Patrick’s Day — “On Saturday, September 18, from 11am-7pm, local Irish group The Ballyshaners welcome you to celebrate the halfway point to Saint Patrick’s Day.”

The Art League showcases the work of Bryan Sieling — “Enjoy collecting objects you’ve found? There is a new exhibit at The Art League Gallery on display through Sept.5 that takes collecting one step farther. Artist Bryan Sieling transforms objects into amazing works.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Showers early then scattered thunderstorms developing later in the day. High near 80F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%… Considerable cloudiness with occasional rain showers. Low 73F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Full-time assistant store manager at Aldi — “When you join our team as an Assistant Store Manager, you’ll take on key store management responsibilities including assisting with supervising day-to-day store activities, ensuring overall store performance, managing schedules, and developing operational action plans while identifying training opportunities to develop and grow the team.” [Indeed]

0 Comments

The Alexandria Fire Department will undergo an organizational restructuring this month that will shift resources to better respond to emergencies.

“Over the past year, our team has reviewed various data including response times, call volume, response coverage and staffing to help us make a data-driven decision that will benefit our workforce and the community,” Fire Chief Corey Smedley said in a recent AFD video.

The plan goes into effect June 12, and includes the formation of battalion management teams (BMTs), where a battalion chief and EMS captain or fire captain is on duty for all three shifts for the East and West Ends of the city. The department says the plan will “improve day-to-day operations by leveraging the experience of more tenured staff to improve daily station management, proactively address personnel and facility issues, and provide professional development opportunities for newly promoted frontline supervisors.”

The Department is plagued by burnout and low morale, said Josh Turner, president of the Alexandria Fire Fighters Inc. and International Association of Firefighters Local 2141, told ALXnow.

“I think we are limited by years and years of a lack of resource allocation and lack of facilities,” Turner said. “Right now, we need another medic unit, but we don’t have a firehouse that can handle it, and obviously we’re working towards that with this new redevelopment. We have larger city problems in our small city, but we don’t necessarily have the infrastructure right now on the public safety side to deal with them adequately.”

Other changes:

  • The Technical Rescue Team will move from Station 204 to Station 209 at Potomac Yard
  • Inland Water Rescue will also relocate to Station 209 for more efficient response to possible flooding in the area
  • The Hazardous Materials Team will move to Station 210 (5255 Eisenhower Avenue) for more efficient response to the industrial park, the Norfolk Southern Ethanol Transloading Facility and easy access to the Interstate 495
  • The Marine Operations Team will relocate to Station 204 (900 Second Street) in Old Town North
  • An addition of a ladder truck at Station 203 (2801 Cameron Mills Road) in the city’s North Ridge neighborhood

“Our department transports approximately 12,000 patients each year,” said EMS Deputy Chief Brian Hricik. “With the organizational restructuring, nearly 50% of our suppression apparatus will be minimally staffed with one paramedic.”

AFD will conduct community conversations on the restructuring on Saturday, June 5, at 10 a.m.; Monday, June 7, at 2 p.m. and Thursday, June 10, at 7 p.m.

2 Comments

Tensions are running high within the Alexandria Fire Department, as racism, sexism and favoritism have resulted in “considerable suspicion, distrust, and loss of confidence in organizational processes, and leaders,” according to a 2020 report.

Perceptions of racism, sexism, and favoritism undercut trust in department processes including assignment, resource distribution, discipline, and promotion,” notes the 2020 Organizational Assessment Report for the Alexandria Fire Department. “Women fight a conservative mindset that has not yet disappeared. Conflict and related conditions fester until they become serious.”

Fire Chief Corey Smedley says his staff are exhausted by COVID-19, and that he is working on addressing multiple issues. He said that race relations within the department remain a work in progress, and that he continually hears negative comments against AFD academy classes that are filled with women and minorities.

“I can tell you, based on my experience, I get sometimes a few people that treat me in a certain way that isn’t what I’ve seen my caucasian counterparts be treated,” Smedley told ALXnow. “Specifically my predecessor… When there are more women and minorities in the recruitment class, I get comments about how everybody isn’t cut out for this job… We need to improve our training practices and the philosophy of training.”

Last summer, results from the annual citywide employee engagement survey were mixed, with only about 25 percent of respondents (147 AFD employees) seeing the department as a great place to work and seeing career opportunities for advancement.

According to the report, “A few participants suggested race may have been a factor in promotions of some members, some perceive that there are members who believe that personnel trained by a minority instructor may not be as capable as those taught by white training.”

All of this comes while the department undergoes a reorganization. Just days after the city made a deal on collective bargaining, AFD announced that roughly two-thirds of AFD staff are being relocated around the city.

“The department has met a new low in moral and low level of trust in senior staff,” one AFD staffer wrote. “If senior staff does not engage its employees, seek input (and listen) from people who actually do the work, and so on, we will continue to plunge further into the lowest we have ever been. There are many talented people who work here and who care; that number is rapidly shrinking by the day.”

AFD staff said that a number of issues, including racism, sexism and pay plague the department.

“Blatant racism and sexism,” an AFD employee wrote. “Pay freeze, fools in charge. How dare you hide behind covid and the bodies of dead Americans as an excuse to not provide me with a raise. The rate of inflation is roughly 2 percent a year. So in reality I’m receiving less money because my purchasing power decreases. Data is a joke.”

The reorganization, among other things, calls for shifting more than a dozen members of the technical rescue team and its resources (including the HAZMAT team and Foam Unit for flammable liquid spills and fires) to the station at Potomac Yard from Fire Station 206 at 4609 Seminary Road in the West End.

Morale has never been lower, Josh Turner, president of the Alexandria Fire Fighters Inc. and International Association of Firefighters Local 2141, told ALXnow.

“I’ve never seen morale this low in the fire department in my 11 years here,” Turner said. “People are tired. I’ve got members that are overworked. Between COVID vaccination sites and just running the normal emergencies that we run, people are tired, and they feel like their leadership isn’t looking out for them.”

AFD Chief of Staff Chris Thompson was hired in February 2020. Thompson was a recruiter for AFD for six years before his promotion, and says that he has fought against an exclusive culture where women and minorities were held back from promotion. He said that he has recruited roughly half of the department, and has gotten a lot of feedback about recruiting “the wrong people.”

“I believe that with any change there is stress,” Thompson said. “The changes that we’re making are basically a reorganization. And that’s basically moving apparatus, changing where people might have to work, changes some of the responsibilities.”

Smedley said that staff are working on 14 initiatives outlined in the report, including developing an advisory committee with employees from various divisions; developing an administrative team; creating an EMS blueprint for promotion to higher ranks; revamping communications within the department and working with the City’s race and social equity officer to develop a Departmental Equity Core Team to train staff on race and equity issues.

“I embrace diverse thoughts and opinions,” Smedley said. “I encourage people to be courageous about their convictions and about their opinion and passion. But they have to be aligned with our values.”

2 Comments

Morning Notes

Sheriff Makes Statement on Death of George Floyd — “This event is a tragic reminder that we, as a law enforcement officers, must do more to hold each other to the high standard of conduct that is expected and demanded by those we serve. We cannot stand by and remain silent when unacceptable conduct by our peers occurs, no matter how minor or major it is.  We must be better for ourselves and our community as lives depend on it.” [City of Alexandria]

Beyer Says Trump Unfit for Office — “The President is inciting violence against the journalists who are showing everyone what is happening at significant personal risk, and against Americans broadly. Trump is unfit for office, and his divisive words make this situation more dangerous.” [Twitter]

ALIVE! Provides Food for 1,060 Families — “We sent 1060 families home with produce eggs and shelf stable groceries today because of your support!” [Facebook]

ACPS Hires Three Principals — “Today Alexandria City Public Schools announced the hiring of three new principals for the 2020-2021 school year. Dr. John McCain will be the new Head of School at Jefferson-Houston, Mr. Loren Brody will be the new principal at Charles Barrett, and Ms. Penny Hairston will be the new principal at Douglas MacArthur. Learn more about them by clicking the links in the comments below.” [Facebook]

DASH Distances from Wraps2Go After Owner Makes Racist Tweet — “We do not support any ideals that promote division, discrimination or racism. We can confirm that we have no ongoing projects with Wraps2Go and will not be doing business with them in the future.” [Facebook]

Fire Chief Congratulates New Firefighters — “Recruit School 50 officially completed their initial training and will begin reporting to their assigned stations tomorrow. Because their graduation ceremony has been postponed, Fire Chief Corey Smedley visited to take questions and give them words of encouragement.” [Facebook]

Tenants and Workers United Advises Arlandria Residents on Rent — “Today we were meeting carefully with more than 100 members of Presidential Greens and New Brookside to follow the next steps to get justice in their homes in their apartment complex in these times of crisis we are in.” [Facebook]

New Job: Part Time Concierge — ” The Concierge will be greeting potential residents, families, visitors, managing both external and internal calls, taking and communicating messages. The Concierge provides an overview of community information to those inquiries in support of the marketing and sales efforts.” [Indeed]

0 Comments

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley.

Like every emergency, the Alexandria Fire Department approached this pandemic with the mindset that we will win the fight, no matter the circumstances – and that is NON-NEGOTIABLE. We have found the courage to redefine ourselves and think outside of the box to try new things in response to something we have never faced before.

I believe that together we can all find that courage as we continue to adjust and hold on to some form of normalcy in this current situation.

When I was officially named the Fire Chief for the Alexandria Fire Department in December 2019, I would have never thought our city would be facing an ongoing, global public health crisis within a few short months.

As a new chief, this can seem overwhelming, and make no mistake about it, COVID-19 is one of the greatest nemeses I have ever encountered to-date.

However, I knew what I was signing up for and I want to be battle-tested for future challenges. But I am not facing this alone. Your Fire Department is a team of talented, skilled and prepared individuals who are risking their own safety to respond to every single emergency call we receive.

The inherent qualities of the fire service profession are compassion, care, preparation, adaptability and teamwork, and we get to demonstrate those qualities even more during this unprecedented global pandemic.

I have seen many AFD leaders emerge during the COVID-19 response, and that increases my passion for fire service and for helping the community. And that is the behavior and character I want to see spread throughout our department – especially in times of crisis. I am honored to be a part of the AFD team, and I could not be prouder of the work our members are doing during this emergency.

I want to reiterate that it is important that everyone does their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping your families and our community safe. We’re all in this together.

Over the past couple of months, we have developed new procedures for emergency calls to keep everyone safe as we continue to carry out our mission.

As you continue to do your part by staying home, maintaining physical distancing and donning face masks when in public spaces, your Fire Department is taking every necessary step to keep our members safe and healthy so we can continue to respond to emergencies.

I have served the public in various ways my entire adult life, including eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve, six years in the Alexandria Fire Department, and nearly 30 years in the National Capital Region. Like many of the members of AFD and our regional public safety partners, I have served my community through various local and national emergencies including major fire incidents, mass shootings, significant weather events, mass gatherings, 9/11, H1N1, and now the coronavirus.

Over the years and through all those incidents, I have learned that our response is only as good as our partnerships with the community and other stakeholders. As the city’s former emergency manager, I recognize that the very first responders are members of the community.

The Alexandria community has not disappointed. You have offered your assistance in helping to feed our firefighters and paramedics; identified gaps and developed ways to meet those needs; and created ways to obtain and/or clean our personal protective equipment (PPE).

Now, I acknowledge that after months at home you may be feeling stressed, anxious and even afraid. We understand, because during these unusual times we are experiencing those feelings as well. Through it all, AFD remains ready to assist the community. Because, like the rest of the Alexandria community, we are strong, courageous and resilient.

Stay encouraged. Stay informed. Stay safe and healthy and we will get through this together.

ALXnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity, at our discretion.

Staff photo by James Cullum

2 Comment

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that the Alexandria Fire Department does business.

While there are currently no AFD personnel who have exhibited symptoms, the department is responding to an uptick in COVID-19-related emergency calls.

“We’re definitely seeing more calls for fever and body aches, but it hasn’t been an exponential increase,” Deputy Fire Chief Brian Hricik told ALXnow. “It’s been four or five, maybe even six calls a day where it’s flu like symptoms is what we’re looking for — the cough, body aches, fevers, those types of things. We might go to a residence for somebody that’s having a heart attack, and if the family member that’s sitting right next to them is coughing and sneezing, and within six feet of us, then we need to be prepared to protect ourselves.”

Hricik is the deputy planning section chief for the city’s Emergency Operations Center, and coordinates response efforts for the fire department, the Alexandria Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office.

Fire Chief Corey Smedley says Hricik is the man for the job.

“One of my first decisions as Fire Chief was to promote Deputy Chief Hricik,” Smedley told ALXnow. “He has been with the department for 23 years and continues to show great leadership and knowledge. He has been leading our efforts to ensure the safety of our members and our community throughout this pandemic. Hricik cares about AFD and the Alexandria community, so he’s the right person for the job especially during these uncertain times.”

There are currently 36 cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria.

Hricik said that first responders are wearing personal protective equipment, distancing themselves from patients and taking minimal equipment into buildings. He also said that 911 operators are screening callers to determine if they are symptomatic, and AFD staff are routinely taking their temperatures and changing clothes.

“EMS is not generally great with responding to flu-like emergencies and protecting ourselves. We’ll often run catch coughs, sneezes, sniffles on a routine basis, especially when flu season starts,” he said. “Now we’re much more purposely moving forward in a slower pace to say, okay, we’re going to send one person in and start asking questions probably at that 10-to-six-foot mark away from the patient or for family members and start asking questions about what’s happening, how we can help, what are the symptoms that they’re having and those types of things. If they have a cough or if they’ve had a fever, we’re handing them a surgical mask to put on themselves first, and then we also have on all of our gowns, gloves, goggles and masks.”

Hricik said the city’s first responders and law enforcement are now rationing personal protective equipment.

“I think right now we have a handle on what we have in stock. We’ve put some measures in place so that we’re not wasteful with it,” he said. “If we end up getting a New York-style expansion, then there’s no way we’re going to survive on what we have.”

Hricik said that the biggest challenge for the department is the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“We’re trying to plan. If we have one patient, our response looks like this, if we have 10 patients, then our response looks different,” he said. “There’s 140,000 to 150,000 people in the city of Alexandria, and if everybody ended up getting it, how do we deal with that? How do we prepare for that? If we have 40 [infected] people in the city and that’s our top number, then I’m confident we’ve got it under control. If we end up having 40,000 people in the city, and that’s our top number, that’s a completely different ballgame.”

Photo via Alexandria Fire Department/Facebook

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list