Newsletter

Fireworks fans should get ready for quite a treat for the senses, as Alexandria’s annual birthday celebration is back along the waterfront on Saturday, July 9.

The free event, which will be held from 6 to 9:45 p.m., will commemorate the city’s 273rd birthday. The evening will include a performance by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra and a grand finale fireworks display at 9:30 p.m.

The celebration was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, and scaled back last year.

Visit Alexandria recommends these vantage points to see the best fireworks:

Fireworks are otherwise illegal in Alexandria

The Alexandria Fire Department is also reminding residents that it’s illegal to use fireworks within the city limits.

“The Alexandria Fire Department is reminding those who visit, live and work in the City of Alexandria that it’s illegal to possess, sell, store, or use any fireworks within the city limits – including sparklers, novelty items, or any fireworks that can be otherwise legally purchased in neighboring jurisdictions,” AHD said in a release.

Fireworks violations are a misdemeanor and punishable by a $2,500 fine and jail time.

“The Fourth of July is approaching, and we encourage the community to celebrate safely. Our Fire Marshal’s Office remains diligent to ensure the safety of the community and to protect people, businesses and property, they will enforce the City’s ban on all fireworks used within city limits,” Fire Chief Corey Smedley said.

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No foul play is suspected in the drowning death of a 52-year-old man in Four Mile Run, according to Alexandria Police.

Police were called around 2 p.m. on Monday, June 20. Rescuers found the man in the stream near the 3900 block of Richmond Highway.

“The man, Tewodros Teferi, 52, was discovered and removed from the water by the Fire Department’s water rescue team, and EMS personnel attempted resuscitation efforts, but the efforts were unsuccessful,” Alexandria Police said in a release. “APD does not suspect foul play but will continue to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.”

Responding agencies included the Alexandria Fire Department, Arlington County Police Department, the Arlington County Fire Department, and D.C. Metropolitan Police.

Anyone with information on this incident is asked to contact Detective Matthew Kramarik at 703-746-6650 or at [email protected]. Callers can also try the police non-emergency line at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.

Map via Google Maps

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Fire Department recruits training on Feb. 14, 2020 (Staff photo by James Cullum)

As Alexandria’s population centers continue shifting westward, city leadership is looking at shifting more fire department resources toward the West End.

In his monthly newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson outlined some of what’s ahead for the Alexandria Fire Department over the next few years.

“The approved Capital Improvement Program for 2023 – 2032 includes $57.5 million of renovation and maintenance funding for the remaining Alexandria fire stations,” Wilson wrote, “including a replacement of Fire Station 205 on Cameron Street and a replacement of Fire Station 208 currently on N. Paxton, with a new station on the existing Landmark Mall site.”

Wilson said five years ago, then-City Manager Mark Jinks oversaw an internal analysis that looked at how to prioritize fire station investments.

“The study did show that response times could be reduced as a result of moving four of the existing fire stations further westward,” Wilson wrote. “This proposal is just that: a suggestion for how the City might be able to optimize public safety response time around our City.”

The change comes as the city also starts to move other services, like the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), into the West End.

On the personnel side, the City of Alexandria is in negotiations with the firefighters union over pay and quality of life issues. The city has faced criticism from the union in recent years over inadequate staffing leading to situations like engines being put out of service and annual leave being suspended.

Future West End expansion of fire station coverage will still be costly and won’t happen overnight, Wilson said.

“Implementation will involve land acquisition and costly construction activities,” Wilson wrote. “As we move forward, however, this data can assist us in prioritizing how we invest in our fire stations, as well as take advantage of development and redevelopment activities to improve our infrastructure supporting these critical services.”

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(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted City Manager Jim Parajon’s $839.2 million fiscal year 2023 budget on Wednesday night (May 4), and despite giving all city employees raises, Mayor Justin Wilson says inflation will likely mean more raises in future budgets.

“We’re staring into a significant inflationary environment that pinches our employees very hard, just like it pinches everyone hard,” Wilson said. “We’re going to have to continue to have this conversation every year about how we make sure we invest in the level of compensation and benefits required to not only attract but retain the best and the brightest in the city.”

The budget is an 8.9% increase from the FY 2022 budget, and includes 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. That’s in addition to annual merit increases for city staff.

City residents can expect to pay an additional $445, or 6.5%, in real estate taxes, although Parajon’s budget maintains the current tax rate at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value. There are a number of other new fees, such as a $294 stormwater utility fee, which is a $14 increase over last year’s doubling of the fee from $140 to $280 to shore up flooding issues.

Council also approved Wilson’s proposal to increase annual residential and commercial refuse collection fees to $500 citywide (from $411 for commercial and $484.22 for residential collection). The $315,000 from the collected fees will fund a curbside food waste collection pilot.

This was the first budget for Parajon, who started work in January.

“This is a team effort and the fact we were able to put together what I think is a budget that truly is going to help a lot of people in the city,” Parajon said.

Councilman Kirk McPike said that he was proud to raise employee compensation, and that there is more work to do. McPike and his fellow new Council members Sarah Bagley and Alyia Gaskins were supportive of a 10% raise for AFD staff in February, as the department has struggled with recruitment, retention and compensation for years.

“I think that as a council we’re committed to doing more to help our firefighters and our police have the support that they need to give us the protection that the people of Alexandria deserve,” McPike said.

The budget also fully meet the requests of the Alexandria City Public Schools budget, which includes a 10.25% raise for teachers.

Council also unanimously approved the 10-year $2.73 billion Capital Improvement Program, which includes $497.8 million in investments for a new high school, renovations at 1705 N. Beauregard Street and two elementary school expansions.

The budget moves nearly $800,000 in Alexandria Police Department funding for School Resource Officers at Alexandria City Public Schools to a reserve account to fund six full time employees.

The budget includes:

  • $1.85 million for police body worn cameras
  • Expansion to Dash line 30
  • $95,000 to hire a social equity officer
  •  An additional Alexandria Co-Response team (ACORP), costing $277,000
  • $200,000 in reserve funding to support Metro Stage construction
  • Purchase of 4850 Mark Center Drive — the future home of the Department of Community and Human Services, the Alexandria Health Department and a West End service center

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Captain Mike Faber feels like he’s always working, and that the City of Alexandria owns he and his family.

Faber says he works an average of 80 hours a week, much of it forced overtime, and on Saturday (April 23) he was backed at City Hall by nearly a dozen Alexandria Fire Department staffers and supporters pleading for increased wages and upgraded equipment.

“In a sense, the City of Alexandria doesn’t just employ me, it owns me and my family, because my ability to participate in my home life is controlled by my employer,” Faber told City Council. “Even with mandatory overtime becoming a daily occurrence, we are still putting trucks, engines and ambulances out of service. As of today, we’ve had something out of service every day since August 12, sometimes having up to four or five units downgraded or pulled from service. That’s 254 straight days of providing suboptimal, and unnecessarily hazardous service to the members of our community.”

Josh Turner, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2141, said that there is a culture of “employees being stepped on, mistreated, and lied to.”

It’s a culture of doing more work, while being paid less,” Turner said. “It’s a culture of being undercut by management and city officials who care more about their perception than they do their employees.”

Turner said the proposed 6% salary increase in City Manager Jim Parajon’s new budget isn’t enough to slow an attrition rate that’s outpacing the number of graduates going through the Fire Department training academy. He also called out Council Members Alyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike and Sarah Bagley for supporting an Alexandria Democratic Committee resolution asking for a 10% pay increase for AFD staff in February.

That 10% increase would only cost $3.4 million,” Turner asked. “What happened to this promise and support?”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that there are no quick fixes to the department’s woes.

“It requires that we not only attract and train new staff, but also retain folks at higher rates than we have been,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We have added significant headcount in recent years (there is no major City Department that has grown as much as AFD), but it takes a while to staff up that quickly, given the training required. That being said, I would like us to continue to explore ways for us to recruit staff from around the region that are already trained and can be placed on the street more quickly than new recruits. That will enable us to reduce the overtime challenges that are negatively impacting our staff.”

AFD was challenged throughout the pandemic by short-staffing and even suspended annual leave in December when COVID-levels were on the rise. Also in December, the union decried the understaffing within the Department by stating that it put people and buildings at risk during a fire at Crystal City’s restaurant row on 23rd Street.

There are now 274 sworn employees and 23 civilian employees within AFD, and the the department needs 347 to be fully staffed. The numbers include 23 recent Recruit School graduates announced on April 15, and the new firefighters and EMTs spent seven months in training.

The department has also experienced an 8.6% attrition rate between April 25, 2021, and April 25, 2022, and the department averages nearly 28 holdover hours a day, and 9.26 people per day work 24 hours of overtime, according to AFD.

The Alexandria Fire Department is among the lowest paid in the region, with full-time firefighter salaries starting at $49,294. The department recently elected its first officers for collective bargaining, which will result in a labor agreement hammered out with the city by this fall.

Firefighter paramedic Alexander Lee is assigned to the training division, and says he has seen a 25% dropout rate in the staff he’s trained over the last six years.

“As a firefighter paramedic, I’ve been on calls where I’ve tried, in vain, to resuscitate a deceased infant, and then two hours later be told that I have to stay at work for another 24 hour shift due to short-staffing,” Lee said. “Members see other jurisdictions where their firefighters work less hours, make more money, spend more time with family and experience less burnout, and ask, ‘Why should I stay here?'” 

AFD Captain Sean Europe says he has worked 80 hours a week for nine months straight.

“One of the major things that has been getting me through this time is cherishing the moments that I am able to spend with my daughter who will be two in June,” Europe said. “As some of you with children may know, she’s reaching an age where she’s going to start remembering special occasions like her first Easter egg hunt.”

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A suspected gas leak early this morning at the Braddock post office (1100 Wythe Street) has turned into an investigation of a possible burglary and more — with no clear explanation.

Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) Senior Public Information Officer Raytevia Evans said the fire department was dispatched early this morning for a possible gas leak.

“Around 4:30 a.m. on February 23, AFD units were dispatched to 1100 Wythe Street for a possible gas leak,” Evans said. “A fire marshal was also dispatched to the incident. Upon his arrival, the fire marshal requested response from the Hazmat Team due to a smell of fuel and/or oil.”

Evans said hazmat testing was positive for hydrocarbons but that there was no evidence of any burned products in he post office.

“The scene was then released to the Postal Inspector for further investigation,” Evans said.

The Alexandria Police Department (APD) said there was broken glass on the premises, but there’s no substantial reason to say arson was involved.

“APD received a call for service at approximately 4:33 a.m. this morning for a possible commercial burglary,” Alexandria Police spokesman Marcel Bassett said. “APD can confirm a glass window was broken on the premises. APD cannot substantiate any reason to say there was arson.”

Hat tip to Peter Prahar, Kerrin Nishimura and Alan Henney

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The George Washington Birthday Parade returned to Alexandria on Monday after a two year hiatus. The streets of Old Town were lined with celebration for Washington’s 290th birthday.

Alexandria’s health care workers and first responders marched as parade grand marshals. The parade, which started at Gibbon and Fairfax Streets and snaked around City Hall, was attended by thousands. The event is the largest of its kind in the world honoring the founding father and first president.

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Image courtesy Will Mahoney (@HeelWillMahoney)

Multiple persons of interest have been identified after an attempted break-in and arson at a 7-Eleven store in the West End.

At around 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 3, four-to-five males walked into the 7-Eleven at 2 S. Jordan Street and “using incendiary devices committed the offense of arson,” according to a police search warrant affidavit.

No arrests have yet been made.

The fire may have been started as a “possible precursor to the offenses of grand larceny and burglary, based on similar cases throughout the District of Columbia metropolitan area,” police said in the warrant.

As previously reported, officials are investigating similar fires at 7-Eleven stores in the region. The most recent was a fire reported early New Year’s Day in Forestville.

Significant damage was made to the store, and police are actively investigating the incident with the Fire Mashall’s Office.

“Investigators recovered evidence from the incident and have submitted the evidence for analysis,” Alexandria Fire Department Raytevia Evans told ALXnow. “Investigators have identified several persons of interest who may have been involved.”

Images courtesy Will Mahoney (@HeelWillMahoney)

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A fire truck in Alexandria (file photo by Jay Westcott)

(Update at 2:45 p.m.) It’s no secret that Alexandria’s public safety agencies want a raise in the upcoming city budget, but if they are to get a compensation increase it will be outside of the boundaries of collective bargaining.

After more than a year of organizing, the elections for collective bargaining representation for the city’s first responders will be held between Feb. 5 and Feb. 22. But with a staffing crisis and compensation issues within the Fire Department, Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, it will not be until 2024 until negotiations will be fruitful.

“If we get more than 50% then we’re then officially allowed to negotiate with the city of Alexandria around anything labor related,” Jeremy McClayton, an organizer for the International Association of Firefighters’ Local 2141 union, told ALXnow. “This is the step we need to take that actually get to the negotiating table this fall. Benefits, wages, operational procedures, time off requests and more, and that would take place likely from March until October.”

The Alexandria Democratic Committee has even put forward a resolution calling for a 10% pay increase for the employees to “maintain the current expectation of
response time and level of public safety.”

“Alexandria Firefighters Union IAFF Local 2141 sent a letter requesting a pay increase that states that the City needs to put forward the funding to hire an additional
70 personnel, while also improving the salaries, benefits and working conditions for current employees to prevent their departures for other jurisdictions,” reads the resolution, which is supported by City Council members Aalyia Gaskins, Kirk McPike and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord.

The resolution continues.

“This underfunding and understaffing clearly affect public safety as they prevent the Fire Department from adequately staffing rescue vehicles, and possibly leading to the necessity of closing one fire station.

Whereas the Fire Department had to perform extra duties during the pandemic, handling covid patients, and manning testing sites, and Police have also had to perform extra duties, while also experiencing issues of schools reopening, and an increase in violent crimes due to the economic hardship, isolation and mental stress during Covid. The Sheriff’s Office staff has also certainly faced additional issues with Covid in managing inmates in the city’s jail.

The city imposed a pay and hiring freeze during the pandemic, and after more than a year of operating under a City Emergency, all city and state employees got a 1% bonus and merit increases were restored with the passage of the fiscal year 2022 budget. In a rare event, the City also provided city employees with a 1.5% salary increase and $3,000 bonuses at the end of the 2021 calendar year.

“While most of these challenges must wait to be addressed during an upcoming budget process, the Council did vote last month to allocate surplus money from the previous fiscal year and a portion of our second tranche of American Rescue Plan funds to provide new funding to our employees,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “The package that the Council adopted included an extremely-rare mid-year 1.5% salary increase for all City employees, a $3,000 bonus to all employees, and targeted increases for several positions in the Police, Fire and Sheriff’s Departments.”

“(T)he city has passed a collective bargaining agreement which won’t go into effect until after the next budget, it is important to address these issues now,” the fire department’s union said in another resolution. “It is important that the city responds in good faith before collective bargaining begins for a multi-year contract.”

Ben Saks, president of the International Union of Police Associations Local 5, says that his union has voiced concerns for months.

“The only way to resolve the staffing crisis is to provide a competitive salary, otherwise current officers and potential applicants will continue to go elsewhere in the region,” Saks said. “Our staffing continues to plummet, so we are asking for a 10% across the board salary increase in the FY23 budget.”

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A 17-year-old Falls Church male was arrested charged with two counts of felony hit and run after an incident that injured two Alexandria firefighters on the morning of Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) in the Landmark area.

The incident occurred at around 4 a.m. in the 300 block of S. Reynolds Street. The suspect, who was driving a dark-colored sports utility vehicle, was arrested by Fairfax County Police.

He was found slumped behind the wheel of the vehicle in the 6300 block of Little River Turnpike — less than two miles away from where the incident occurred, according to a search warrant.

“While they were loading equipment onto their fire truck, a dark colored vehicle struck two firefighters and part of the truck,” police said in a news release. “The driver of the dark colored vehicle did not stop and sped away from the scene. Both firefighters were treated at a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and were released the same day.”

Alexandria Police found a case of Corona beer on the floor of the passenger’s side seat of the suspect’s car, as well as two open beer bottles in the front cup holders, police said in the search warrant.

The suspect admitted to police that he’d been drinking throughout the evening at his aunt’s house in Fairfax County, and that he drove a friend home in the City, police said in the warrant. He also did not provide police with his friend’s name or address.

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