Newsletter

Alexandria was spared from significant flooding this week after remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the East Coast. The only flooding found was on lower King Street in Old Town, where businesses laid sandbags at windows and doorways.

“We’re open inside, but if you want to eat you’re probably going to have to come barefoot,” a hostess at Mai Thai told ALXnow on Wednesday.

Our top story this week was, for the second week in a row, on the recent brawl inside Alexandria City High School.

It’s a three-day weekend, and on Sunday the annual Old Town Festival of Speed & Style will bring crowds to marvel at classic and beautiful rides along King Street. Monday is Labor Day, and the city will operate on a holiday schedule.

In this week’s poll we asked how satisfied readers are with Alexandria City Public Schools since reopening on August 24. A majority (31%) reported being extremely unsatisfied with the school system, while 29% said ACPS has done a good job, 25% are extremely satisfied and 14% are unhappy overall.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  2. 13-year-old hit by car while walking home from school in Del Ray
  3. Fox put George Washington Middle School into a lock-in today
  4. Man arrested for spending spree after finding wallet in Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot
  5. No injuries or arrests after shots fired on Duke Street
  6. ACPS Superintendent Hutchings asks community to hit the brakes on email campaigns
  7. Alexandria man arrested for beating up ex-girlfriend in Old Town North
  8. Alexandria sees cases rise in August and warns of COVID-19 in schools
  9. Alexandria man convicted for possessing child porn and violating parole
  10. Historic Black cemetery under threat of being washed away in Old Town
  11. Man swallows two bags of drugs and runs from police in Old Town

Have a safe weekend!

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

The dispersal of the heavy rescue squad was the breaking point for the Alexandria Fire Department, a representative of the local union said.

Jeremy McClayton, organizer for the International Association of Firefighters Local 2141, said the unit — which handles construction site emergencies, operates the jaws of life in car crashes, and performs flooding rescues — was dispersed to fill gaps in staffing across the department. For a fire department seeing a widespread exodus and forced overtime, it was a step too far.

IAFF Local 2141 recently submitted an open letter and public campaign to CityManager Mark Jinks and the City Council outlining concerns about the impact of understaffing both on public safety and department morale.

According to the letter:

The City’s prolonged mismanagement and underfunding of our Fire Department has not only demonstrated that the City Manager and/or City Council do not properly support our emergency personnel, but that they are actively deciding to provide diminished emergency services at the risk of potential harm to the citizens, businesses and visitors of Alexandria. It is with this in mind that we bring these issues to the forefront before this crisis escalates to a point that causes unnecessary harm to the community we serve.

When the city has a flooding or construction site emergency, or a car crash that requires the jaws of life, McClayton said the fire department has to get the various members of the old heavy rescue squad away from their assignments to wherever the emergency is, which takes time, or rely on the mutual aid assistance from Fairfax or Arlington County.

The letter said another critical component is the shortage of Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel. While there is at least one ALS-trained person per station, McClayton said the goal should be to have one per ambulance. ALS personnel are qualified to perform medical duties above basic CPR, and McClayton said it’s often not clear until emergency personnel are out on the scene what will be required.

“That was actually the turning point for us,” McClayton said. “There’s only so much we can take. The internal stuff, that’s whatever, we want to handle that in collective bargaining, but I don’t want the ambulance providers to show up and get chewed out because they can’t [rescue someone].”

McClayton said many of those who haven’t already fled the department are attempting to. Throughout the Alexandria Fire Department, McClayton said only eight live in the city of Alexandria. The department has also been plagued by holdovers — where someone finishes up an up-to 24 hour shift only to be told that they are required to stay for another 24 hours.

“We have someone who is a medic who has been held over so many times with forced overtime,” McClayton said. “That means you have a 24 hour shift, it ends at 7 a.m., and at 6:55 you’re told to stay another 24 hours. Her husband is running the risk of getting fired because they have to change up child care. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice that in order to serve the community.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said holdover problem and the staffing issues are problems the city needs to address. Despite those issues, Wilson said the city has made progress over the years on fixing some of those issues.

“Over the last decade, the city has significantly and dramatically increased the investment in our fire department and increased the workforce to get ourselves to four person staffing on each apparatus,” Wilson said. “We have applied for and received multiple federal grants and used that to significantly invest in our fire staffing. We historically had an understaffed fire department compared to our neighbors, with three firefighters per apparatus and we have have increased that to four.”

Wilson also said that one of the concerns, that the city manager would force the department to close a station due to staffing shortages, won’t happen.

Wilson said earlier plans for a boost to fire department pay were hamstrung by the COVID budget and other issues.

“A couple of things have gone wrong,” Wilson said. “One: we’ve had a bad summer, with a lot of folks out, COVID, various other things going on that have strained our workforce. We had people leaving due to pay and compensation issues that we still have to address. We have a class starting now that will be on the street in several months that will help relieve some of that pressure… The manager’s proposed budget Pre-COVID had large investments in public safety and pay and compensation increases. Unfortunately those were removed due to COVID.”

Wilson said that while the city added new positions to the department and worked to blend medics and firefighters into one job, the city has had difficulties on both fronts.

“We were one of only two departments that had standalone paramedics,” Wilson said. “Every other department had all personnel that could staff for the fire department or an ambulance. A bunch of people did train to do both, but not as many as expected. It’s a bunch of different things going on that have created this situation. We added positions, but struggled to fill them. That’s the big picture.”

Now, the city and the IAFF are entering collective bargaining discussions for better pay, but Wilson said it will never reach neighboring Fairfax County.

“Fairfax has always been an outlier in funding,” Wilson said. “We’re not going to pay more than Fairfax, that’s just not a reality. The proposed budget last year had significant increases in public safety pay, those were things that had to be scrapped.”

McClayton said it’s unlikely Alexandria will lead the region in firefighter funding, but said more should be done to at least make the department competitive.

“When Loudoun County had a job opening, 20 of our guys applied for it,” McClayton said. “Alexandria has to be in the middle of the pack. Right now, King George County has a higher opening salary… [This] should be a priority for any local government.”

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Morning Notes

Standards of Learning Test participation drops in Alexandria — “At ACPS, 60 percent of eligible students participated in the spring 2021 SOL tests. In past years, the school division had participation above 98 percent. The SOL pass rates for ACPS for all participating students were 57 percent for reading, 82 percent for writing, 44 percent for history and social science, 39 percent for mathematics, and 43 percent for science.” [Patch]

Fire Department trains at The Birchmere — “Recently, AFD conducted a multi-company drill at the Birchmere on Mount Vernon Avenue. Regular training, communication, and familiarization with their coverage areas keeps our first responders well prepared to respond during emergency situations in the City.” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny in the morning then increasing clouds with some scattered thunderstorms later in the day. High 92F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%… Variable clouds with scattered thunderstorms (in the evening). Low 73F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 50%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Restaurant manager — “Restaurant AGM responsibilities include, managing day to day operations, guest satisfaction, payroll and supervising restaurant staff performance. To be successful in this role, you should be familiar with restaurant operations and have a good understanding of what makes a great guest experience. You should also be available to work weekdays including weekends and holidays.” [Facebook]

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Morning Notes

Former City Councilman Connie Ring dies — “Carlyle Conwell “Connie” Ring, Jr., 90, passed away peacefully on August 19, 2021, at his home at Goodwin House, Alexandria, Virginia… He was an appointed member of the Alexandria School Board from 1969 to 1978, and chairman from 1976 to 1978. During this time, he was involved in the integration of public schools in Alexandria. Connie later held a seat on Alexandria’s City Council from 1979 to 1988.” [Legacy.com]

Alexandria starts pilot program to rename Confederate-named streets — “Alexandria is launching a pilot program and new process for residents to request changes to street names in the City of Alexandria.” [Alexandria Living]

The Birchmere is requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID test — “Effective Wednesday, Aug. 25, all attendees, artists and staff will need to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before attending an event. The venue will accept three types of documentation: a physical vaccination card, digital copy of a vaccination card that matches a person’s photo ID, or negative test within the past 72 hours that matches a person’s photo ID. A physical or digital test will be accepted.” [Patch]

Brewski’s Barkhaus is celebrating National Dog Day in style — “Barkhaus opens early at 11 AM on August 26 with free puppuccinos, ‘dog beer,’ and food specialsLater, get dressed up for The Pet Gala, a ticketed event supporting the National Humane Society from 7:30 to 10PM. Black tie attire is required for all pups and humans, and tickets ($75) are on sale now.” [Washingtonian]

Alexandria firefighters to get collective bargaining training — “We’ll be running through our game plan on how we can lower holdovers, improve pay, improve working conditions, and ensure that WE the WORKERS have a seat at the table when decisions are made!” [Facebook]

Today’s weather — “Sunshine and clouds mixed (during the day). Hot and humid. High 94F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy skies (in the evening). A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. Low near 75F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Cannabis reviewer — “We are a DC-based start-up and cannabis review site that is rapidly growing. We are looking for cannabis connoisseurs who think they have what it takes to join our ranks as a reviewer of Virginia medical marijuana dispensary products and homegrows. This role is mostly remote but does require the ability to travel throughout one or more Virginia counties to pick-up or receive deliveries. For consideration candidates must be local to Northern Virginia and have a valid Virginia medical marijuana license.” [Indeed]

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What a week in Alexandria.

Public uproar over Sunday’s flooding spilled out throughout this week, which continued to be threatened by near-daily flash flood advisories from the National Weather Service.

Our top story was on Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who criticized City Manager Mark Jinks on the city’s stormwater infrastructure. Mayor Justin Wilson says that multiple projects are underway and take time, and that the city is now looking into whether spot improvements and any other projects can be accelerated.

The group DrainALX has also gained popularity, as it continues to catalog stormwater issues and complaints. One Del Ray resident even told us that she’s turned to therapy after repeatedly spending thousands on a continually ruined basement.

Our weekly poll also found 55% of respondents (193 people) have experienced flood damage to their homes, 14% (74 people) have experienced other sorts of property damage and 31% (159 votes) have never had any property damaged by a storm in the city.

This weekend’s forecast is partly cloudy with a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon, followed by a 40% chance of thunderstorms Sunday night.

School issues

The week before school starts, the School Board unanimously approved Thursday night the requirement that ACPS staffers get the coronavirus vaccine.

“We do have authority to require testing and require vaccinations,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said at the board meeting. “However, there have been no cases where someone has contested that requirement. That has not occurred as of yet, and I’m sure it’s going to begin soon…”

In the meantime, Alexandria is also prepping COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. As Alexandria looks to accelerate stormwater projects, Sheriff gives city manager a D-
  2. The Four Mile Run Bridge in Arlandria will not fully reopen until fall 2025
  3. Institute for Defense Analyses announces Potomac Yard move-in later this year
  4. Woman behind DrainALX campaign shares frustrations and hopes from locals after Sunday flood
  5. HUD Secretary Fudge visits Alexandria, says affordable housing is a Biden Administration priority
  6. New census shows Alexandria not majority-white
  7. Alexandria School Board to discuss mandatory vaccinations for staffers this week
  8. After rampant flooding over weekend, another Flash Flood Watch is in effect for Alexandria
  9. Poll: Have you gotten the infamous mite bite in Alexandria?
  10. Alexandria Fire Department struggling with staffing shortage and forced overtime
  11. Stuck in quandary, Del Ray flooding victim seeks therapy

Have a safe weekend!

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(Updated 7:15 p.m.) The Alexandria Fire Department responded to 21 weather-related calls for service in the massive thunderstorm early Sunday morning, including three rescues that saved several people.

Two of the rescues were in Alexandria — one vehicle on N. Quaker Lane and a stalled vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, AFD senior public information officer Raytevia Evans told ALXnow.

The third incident was a swift water rescue in Fairfax County, Evans said.

“Do not drive in standing water,” Evans told ALXnow. “And please sign up for emergency alerts in the city.”

Evans said AFD is working in coordination with the Alexandria Office of Emergency Management to respond to emergency calls for service.

The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning for Alexandria that remains in effect until 8:15 p.m.

The whole week ahead looks rainy.

According to NWS:

This Afternoon
Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 82. East wind around 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Tonight
Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 7pm, then scattered showers and thunderstorms after 7pm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Cloudy, with a low around 73. Southeast wind around 7 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Tuesday
A chance of showers and thunderstorms before 8am, then a slight chance of showers between 8am and 11am, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 11am. Cloudy, with a high near 87. South wind 5 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Tuesday Night
A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 74. Southeast wind around 6 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Wednesday
A chance of showers, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 2pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 86. Southeast wind 7 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
Wednesday Night
Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 2am, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 2am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 74. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
Thursday
A chance of showers, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 2pm. Mostly sunny, with a high near 88. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
Thursday Night
Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 8pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 8pm and 2am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 73. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
Friday
A chance of showers after 2pm. Mostly sunny, with a high near 87. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Friday Night
A chance of showers before 8pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 72. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Saturday
A chance of showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 89. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Saturday Night
A chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 72. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Sunday
A chance of showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 89. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Sunday Night
A chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 72. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Monday
Mostly sunny, with a high near 89.
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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]

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The Alexandria Fire Department is buckling under the strain of a staffing shortage and forced overtime, as firefighters, EMTs and medics say that their operations are not sustainable.

Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley says that staffing shortages within the department, which underwent a restructuring in June,  is resulting in an uptick in holdovers (forced overtime).

“Since 2016, The Alexandria Fire Department has been utilizing holdovers in order to maintain critical staffing of emergency medical and fire personnel citywide,” Smedley told ALXnow. “AFD has experienced high attrition rates, staffing relief challenges, and competition from surrounding fire departments.”

Alexandria first responders clocked in more than 8,500 overtime hours in June, according to the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

“We did this to ensure ALL residents of Alexandria City had access to the first responders they need when emergencies occur,” the IAFF Local 2141 said on social media. “There is no quick fix to solve this issue… At this point, we need to hire and train at least 35 additional Advanced Life Support staff members just to break even.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said “a perfect storm of factors” is leading to the crunch.

“The recent holdovers are quite disruptive for our staff and their families,” Wilson said. “Over the past several years, the City has grown Fire Department staffing, as we have moved to 4-person staffing (per engine). We have not included adequate relief staffing as we have grown positions, our dual role-firefighter/medic conversions have been slower than we would like, and we have a number of reassignments right now. Our Fire Department leadership is taking immediate actions to address the crunch we’re seeing this summer.”

Smedley says he is working on contingencies to relieve his staff. In the meantime, without any concrete moves from the city it looks like the earliest the department will start to see some relief is next spring, as the Department’s six-month training academy with 28 new recruits will kick off next month. Additionally, AFD needs to hire six funded staffing relief positions, while 20 other relief positions remain unfunded.

The Fire Department has been plagued by burnout and low morale, as AFD employees are among the lowest paid in the region. AFD currently has 285 employees, and 261 of them sworn officers. In fact, to break even the department says it needs 48 additional sworn staffers.

The union says that the reorganization plan isn’t working.

“The department reorganization plan is failing and being carried on the backs of our members and their families,” the union said in another post. “Requiring rank and file first responders to do 24 hours of forced overtime per week is unsustainable to our city and our department.”

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Morning Notes

Galactic Panther Art Gallery to open on King Street in Old Town — “Galactic Panther, a new art gallery at 1303 King St. in Alexandria, will open in early August. The art gallery is a partnership between internationally-exhibiting artist Eli Pollard and Erik Meundel, who is the current owner of ESP Tea & Coffee.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Fire Department graduates three recruit schools — “The Alexandria Fire Department officially graduated Recruit School 49 on Thursday, July 22, and Recruit Schools 50 and 51 on Friday, July 23 at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial after postponing the ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AFD welcomed and celebrated 45 new firefighter/EMTs.” [Patch]

Longtime Alexandrian librarian dies at age 100 — “Gladys Howard Davis, who was born on June 7, 1921 and raised in Alexandria, Virginia, where she was one of ten children born to Ezekial and Elizabeth “Winnie” Pollard Howard, was a witness to history and significant changes in her hometown where she helped educate generations of Alexandrians during her 60-plus years of service to the Alexandria Library system. She passed away July 10, 2021.” [Zebra]

Hot? Alexandria reopens cooling centers — “Looking to cool off? The City offers several locations as options to residents who may not have cooling in their homes, including recreation centers and libraries, as well as assistance for adults 60+ and some low-income households.” [Twitter]

Today’s weather — “Mainly sunny. High 94F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph… A mostly clear sky. Low 72F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary pool operator — “In pursuit of service excellence, the Temporary Pool Operator provides facility monitoring for an aquatic environment for patrons of all ages and background. This position will ensure the safety of all patrons, ensure proper pool chemistry, repair and inspect pool pumps, filters, and plumbing, provide exceptional customer service, and other duties assigned. Pool operators also perform as lifeguards and must have lifeguard credentials. Pool Operators are the aquatics shift leader and provide direction to lifeguards on their shift.” [Indeed]

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What a hot week in Alexandria.

With temperatures hovering in the mid-90s, the week started with a power outage at a 17-story apartment building in Landmark area. The outage lasted five days and residents had to find accommodations until the building reopened Friday afternoon.

On the coronavirus front, Alexandria experienced a slight uptick, and the health department says unvaccinated residents account for a majority of new cases. There have been 39 new cases reported so far this month in the city, and 13 cases were reported on July 9. That was the biggest single-day jump since May 20, when 18 new cases were reported.

In school news, this week we spoke with Alexandria High School Principal Peter Balas, who said that his staff are ready to fully reopen for full-time in-person instruction when the 2021-2022 school year starts on August 24.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Here’s the plan for Alexandria’s birthday celebration this weekend
  2. City Council approves massive high-rise project without affordable housing near Eisenhower Metro station
  3. ‘Call Your Mother Deli’ signs lease in Old Town
  4. Del. Mark Levine raises eyebrows with letter that passes buck on constituent service
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria City High School is ready to reopen at full capacity next month, principal says
  7. School Board Member Jacinta Greene faces reelection, wants race relations taught in ACPS
  8. Tropical Storm Elsa’s dregs tear through southern Alexandria
  9. Poll: Do you agree with reallocation of school resource officer funding?
  10. West End high-rise apartment building evacuated after power outage
  11. The Alexandria Police, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department all want raises

Have a safe weekend!

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