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Fire on Wheeler Avenue (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) said a massive fire earlier this month on Wheeler Lane caused an estimated $5 million in damages.

In a release, AFD said the fire was “accidental and electrical in nature”. The fire caused $1.5 million in structural damage with an estimated $3.5 million in damage to the contents of the businesses in those buildings.

The fire, which started around 9 p.m. on Jan. 2, was a three-alarm fire that wound up bringing in over 100 firefighters from both Alexandria and surrounding jurisdictions. One firefighter sustained minor injuries.

Jeffrey’s Catering, one of the providers to Alexandria’s Meals on Wheels program, was one of the businesses affected. Despite concerns that the fire might impact Meals on Wheels’ ability to provide food for local seniors, the release said the owners of Jeffrey’s Catering were able to continue services using an alternative location.

The building has since been condemned due to fire and structural damage.

The release is below:

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Rendering of outdoor plaza at Monumental Arena development (image courtesy of JBG SMITH)

Alexandria doesn’t have the resources to adequately cover the public safety aspect of the proposed Potomac Yard arena and entertainment district, sources in the Alexandria Police Department and Sheriff’s Office told ALXnow.

The city currently does not have the resources to cover the addition of the arena and entertainment district at Potomac Yard. The Alexandria Police Department has just over 300 officers, the Sheriff’s Office has around 165 deputies and the Fire Department has about 300 fire and rescue personnel.

The city is developing a “public safety and event services plan” to support large events while maintaining service for the rest of the city.

“The project team, which includes multiple city agencies, is developing a public safety and event services plan for the proposed entertainment district that will include deployment of City and regional resources to support the public during events in this area while maintaining full services for the rest of the City,” Ebony Fleming, the city’s director of communications, told ALXnow.

Last year, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, hired an additional 20% of off-duty D.C. police officers to handle security at games and events.

In the meantime, the Alexandria Fire Department is undergoing a restructuring, or redeployment, of resources. In 2022, more than 70% of AFD incidents were medical and rescue-related and just 15% were fire alarm and fire-related. Fleming says that the AFD Forward plan, which would redeploy resources around the city, will not be impacted by the arena.

“The arena will not impact AFD Forward,” Fleming said. “The Entertainment District project will include a fire and emergency medical services event services plan that will be developed to support the public in this area while maintaining full services for the rest of the City.”

Fleming did not provide a deadline for completion of the public safety and event services plan.

Fleming said that the police department is leading the law enforcement planning and that the Sheriff’s Office is “willing to support APD should they identify specific needs where Sheriff’s Deputies can enhance the public’s safety.” She also said that Sheriff Sean Casey is “confident a thorough needs assessment will be requested and conducted as part of the overall process.”

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(Updated 12:15 a.m.) A three-alarm fire sent plumes of smoke up into the skies above Wheeler Avenue earlier this evening.

The 4000-4400 blocks of the street burned earlier this evening, but by 11 p.m. the fire had been contained.

The Alexandria Fire Department said the fire is in a commercial building on the 4400 block of Wheeler Avenue, the site of several warehouses and industrial businesses.

Scanner traffic indicated that the fire had spread across 4413, 4411, and 4407 Wheeler Avenue.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story

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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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Updated at 11:45 a.m. Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley announced his retirement today, and that he will leave the top job on Friday, Jan. 12.

After more than three years at the helm of the department, the 51-year-old Smedley did not say what his next move would be after his retirement. He’s the city’s first permanent Black fire chief, and led the department through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as negotiated the AFD first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the fire department’s union.

“I am extremely blessed and honored to serve,” Smedley said. “The Fire and EMS service is a great way to spend your life serving others and helping those in need. Although this is a bittersweet moment, I find solace knowing the department is in a better place and there are leaders within that will continue the journey of improvement.”

Mayor Justin Wilson called Smedley a “great leader.”

“Chief Smedley has been a great leader for one our fastest-growing departments at a critical time in our history,” Wilson told ALXnow. “His retirement is a big loss for our City. I wish Chief Smedley well in his retirement and I thank him for his tireless work to protect the safety of people and property in our community.”

City Manager Jim Parajon also appointed Jim Schwartz to act as interim Fire Chief as the city conducts a national search for Smedley’s permanent replacement. Schwartz retired in 2021 as a deputy county manager in Arlington.

Smedley was born in Washington D.C., raised in Maryland and lives in Chesapeake Beach, Md. He joined the department in 2015 as the deputy fire chief of emergency management and homeland security, after 20 years with the Prince George’s County Fire Department. 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 unexpectedly announced his retirement.

City Manager Jim Parajon thanked Smedley for his contributions over the last eight years.

“His outstanding leadership has led to significant workplace improvements for our firefighters and EMS providers, while improving the quality of life in Alexandria,” Parajon said. “We wish him all the best for a well-earned retirement.”

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A man was stabbed in an attempted robbery in the 5600 block of Derby Court on Wednesday night, Nov. 29, 2023 (via Google Maps)

A 35-year-old man was stabbed in an attempted robbery Wednesday night, according to the Alexandria Police Department.

APD was notified at around 11 p.m. that the victim was stabbed in the arm in an attempted robbery in a parking lot in the 5600 block of Derby Court, which is near William Ramsay Elementary School, the William Ramsay Recreation Center and the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center.

The victim suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported to the hospital. No suspect information was released to the public. APD sent out a notification at 11:40 p.m. to expect a moderate police presence in the area, and the Alexandria Fire Department dispatcher said that the victim was intoxicated.

Anyone with information on the incident can contact the APD non-emergency number at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.

Map via Google Maps

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Alexandria firefighter Tiffany Matthews (staff photo by James Cullum)

You might say Tiffany Matthews wears a lot of hats.

Matthews is a senior instructor at the Alexandria Fire Department’s academy, training the city’s freshest recruits how to run into burning buildings and save lives. In her off-duty hours, though, she’s the founding owner of the Washington Prodigy women’s pro-football team. In fact, she’s been involved in  professional football just as long as she’s been with AFD — 19 years.

An Alexandria native, Matthews joined the U.S. Army after graduating in 1998 from T.C. Williams High School, where she played varsity basketball. Watching Sunday football was a special event for her family, she said, and her interest in the game started by watching her brother play on the George Washington Middle School football team. The team’s coach was impressed enough to make her his assistant.

“I’d be watching my brother playing and I was just observing to the point where I was calling out plays,” Matthews recalled. “The coach noticed and asked me if I wanted to hold his clipboard…. Once I had that clipboard, I was kind of motivated on the sideline.”

Matthews, now 43, was a U.S. Army private stationed in Germany when she started playing flag football. In 2004, after being discharged, she started working as an Alexandria firefighter. That same year she was also recruited as a running back for the D.C. Divas.

The season runs every year from April to June, In 2012, she broke away from the Divas to found the Washington Prodigy. She had just 14 athletes, including herself as a player/owner/head coach. Now the team is one of 16 teams in the Women’s National Football Conference (WNFC). She stopped playing in 2018, and the team now boasts 40 players in the six-game season, which runs from April to June. Home games are played at Anacostia High School in D.C., and as far away as Texas, Florida and Tennessee.

The Washington Prodigy (via Facebook)

None of the players are paid, and Matthews says she wants the WNFC to have the same name recognition and popularity as the Women’s National Basketball Association.

“I think we deserve it,” she said. “The coaches plan and meet weekly, and the players come to practice two or three times a week.”

She also said she’s on-board with the WNFC incorporating flag football into its offerings.

“The league is going in a great direction,” Matthews said. “And I think they do a very good job of making sure we’re (team owners are) on the same page by bringing in large endorsements and sponsorships like Adidas, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.”

Matthews plans on retiring from the fire department in six years, after which she says she will focus on the team.

If asked, Matthews describes herself as a firefighter first, and a pro-sports team owner second.

“It depends on the environment,” she said “I’m a firefighter. That’s pretty much my response, unless I’m in a sporting environment and they already kind of know that I’m involved with footballers in some sort of fashion.”

Team photo via Facebook

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For nearly 20 years, firefighter Corrin Pumphrey has been the Alexandria Fire Department’s resident artist.

Last month, Pumphrey unveiled a 12-by-six-foot-tall mural of first responders at AFD’s health and wellness Station 202  (213 E. Windsor Avenue) in Del Ray.

The piece includes 12 portraits of AFD personnel who modeled in full regalia for Pumphrey. The mural is painted on four large canvases — just big enough for Pumphrey to move in her car.

“(The department) had a huge wall and they wanted something health and safety oriented,” she said. “That was the challenge, trying to figure out what I could put up there.”

A native of Annapolis, Pumphrey has been an artist all her life and earned a bachelor’s degree in illustration from the Columbus School of Art and Design.

She graduated college at a time that her skillset was largely being converted to digital artwork and after multiple rejections from companies like Disney, she started applying to be a firefighter. Alexandria was the first to respond to her application and she’s been fighting fires in the city ever since.

“I can’t remember how the first person (at AFD) found out I was an artist,” she said. “It’s the same way with every trade. Like, there’s always one (AFD employee) who knows how to do tile work, there’s always a carpenter. So, one person found out and I started making T-shirts and stuff for people.”

One thing led to another and Pumphrey has since contributed art to multiple stations over the years, including a mural at Station 210 at 5225 Eisenhower Avenue and a collage of pencil drawings of every fire station in the city.

She can also be found selling oil and watercolor paintings and her sketches from a booth at Del Ray’s Art On The Avenue festival and other art festivals around the region.

Pumphrey wants to retire after 25 years with the department and then move to Spain to be a full-time artist living on her AFD pension.

“I want to move to Spain to paint,” she said. “That’s the plan. I want to chill. Life is short. I just want to walk to the Mediterranean and look at it and look at the pretty colors, and use their wonderful public transportation to get around and look at other places and just paint them all.”

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Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley (center) with Alexandria Fire Department first responders (via AFD/Facebook)

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) With emergency medical incidents taking up nearly 75% of calls for service, the Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) is planning to redeploy some of its resources, Fire Chief Corey Smedley tells ALXnow.

Smedley’s AFD Forward plan is still being ironed out, but the gist is that by the first quarter of 2024 the department’s fire engines will get reduced from nine to seven and increasing smaller Emergency Medical transport units staffed by firefighters/emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

“As a firefighter and as manager based on the needs of the community, we will put you in the most appropriate place to serve the community,” Smedley said. “Sometimes that will be on a fire truck, sometimes that will be on an emergency medical unit. It just varies based on the needs and resources we have to accommodate those needs.”

AFD’s calls for service saw 27,435 incidents in 2022. About 72% of those incidents were medical and rescue-related, while just 15% were fire alarm and fire-related.

Fire Chief Corey Smedley at Alexandria’s birthday celebration at Oronoco Bay Park, July 10, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Smedley wants to take away fire engines from Station 204 (900 Second Street) in Old Town North and Station 205 (1210 Cameron Street) in Rosemont. Just where the new EMS units and staff will be redeployed has not been determined, he said.

“What’s needed for the community, mainly, is our core functions,” Smedley said. “AFD Forward is a short and mid-term solution that we have the capability within our own purview to adjust accordingly to better serve our community, to help our workforce and in their working conditions. And, within our fiscal capabilities, manage our mission.”

Smedley said that no staff will be let go from the department, just redistributed, and that response times to incidents should not change.

“It also means my fuel costs will hopefully go down, my maintenance costs for heavy apparatus, a large apparatus will go down,” Smedley said. “The hope also is that we better serve our community and we are less reliant on mutual aid, we have better reliability of our own resources and we have to go to less hours for our workforce as in the collective bargaining agreement, and we are working very diligently to get there.”

Smedley was promoted to fire chief in 2020, after spending five years as the department’s deputy fire chief of emergency management. He implemented a restructuring in 2021, shifting AFD responsibilities and resources to stations around the city.

The move isn’t popular with the AFD union.

“Local 2141 does not support ANY cuts in the services our members provide to the Alexandria community,” said AFD Captain Josh Turner, president of IAFF Local 2141, the union representing the city’s firefighters, medics and fire marshals, in a text to ALXnow. “We as a union will proactively reach out to City and Department management to find a solution that will protect the interests of the community we serve. Cutting emergency services is never something we will support.”

So far, AFD Forward has been sent to the city manager’s office and AFD staff, the union and members of City Council, Smedley said.

Alexandria Fire Department call volume (via AFD)

The plan includes:

  • Adding two additional life support transit units Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. to handle peak call volume
  • Adding rapid response paramedics
  • Promoting four new captains for the uniform watch office and 911 center, to help direct adequate resources to service calls

City Manager Jim Parajon should also expect a request for more AFD resources in next year’s budget, Smedley said.

“I’m going to ask for more,” he said. “The FY ’25 budget process is coming. I’ve already told the city manager’s office I’m going to be asking for more and more so that we can manage our mission.”

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

The Alexandria Fire Department wants to replace a 42-year-old burn building used for training in Old Town.

AFD’s proposal to demolish the three-story, 4,600-square-foot building with a new four-story, 6,400-square-foot building goes before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 3 and City Council on October 14.

According to the special use permit application:

The building does not have HVAC systems, interior lighting, domestic plumbing, nor a dedicated sprinkler system. Defined as a ‘prop’ by the State of Virginia Department of Fire Programs, the purpose of the structure is to replicate built conditions and spatial arrangements fire fighters encounter in real life, local, fire fighting scenarios. This structure is intended for use solely by supervised training exercises of professional fire fighters and AFD trainees and is closed to the general public…

The frequency of training and the level of disturbance (smoke, sound, visibility) on the surrounding area are not expected to increase in the new facility. The additional fourth story will not host live fire drills and the added height should not incur an increased line of sight to the surrounding area.

Most training sessions are for up to 10 trainees, however there are instances where they can include up to 100 firefighting personnel, according to a special use permit application

AFD reports there have been no complaints from residents or neighboring AlexRenew for more than 40 years.

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