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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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A day after 10 inches of snow was dumped on the region, 95% of Alexandria’s primary roadways are now “passable”, according to the City’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.

The Department also tweeted that 65% of the city’s secondary streets are passable, and that crews are working toward intermediate streets. There are also still three open requests to clear away snow from the city’s Arlandria neighborhood, according to the city.

The storm led to a two-day closure of the city government and virtual learning for Alexandria City Public Schools.

Still, the Alexandria Fire Department says the were no “unusual” storm-related calls for service.

“Like our neighboring mutual aid partners, AFD was very busy on Jan. 3 during the heavy snow,” AFD Senior Public Information Officer Raytevia Evans told ALXnow. “With our Logistics Section running the snow plow and our maintenance shop available to work through any mechanical issues that came up, we were able to work through delays due to the weather.”

Evans continued, “There were no particularly unusual calls related to weather, but the department remained busy throughout the day.”

Photo via John Antonielli

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Another single-day record for new COVID cases was set in Alexandria today, and the understaffed Alexandria Fire Department has made “vital changes” to contend with rising infections among staffers, including the temporary suspension of annual leave.

There were 460 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Alexandria on Today (Dec. 30), a 22% jump over the previous record of 376 cases set on Christmas day.

“During this time, we will temporarily suspend the authorization of annual leave,” AFD leadership wrote in a Monday email to City Manager Mark Jinks. “The Alexandria Fire Department is implementing vital strategic changes in response to the highly transmissible Omicron variation of the COVID-19 virus and the current staffing challenges. AFD is experiencing an increase in daily positive cases.”

The department currently has 22 members who are non-operational due to COVID, and 29 confirmed infections in the last month. While the number of infections is relatively low, AFD is currently understaffed by 23%, with 281 first responders working in a department that needs 347 to be fully staffed.

Consequently, long-standing staffing issues at the department have resulted in first responders working exorbitant overtime hours.

“Over the last three months, I’ve worked 1,004.25 hours,” AFD Captain Sean Europe told City Council in the public comment portion of a recent meeting. “That means I’ve worked, on average, close to 80 hours per week. Eighty hours a week as a firefighter. I don’t even know if that’s legal. I’m working twice as much, while getting paid less, than the people doing the exact same job just up the road.”

Department-wide over the last three months, AFD staff have worked more than 6,200 forced overtime hours and 10,500 of voluntary overtime.

Europe says he has 42 days of paid annual leave that he can’t use because of staffing.

I want to take a vacation, to spend time with my family and friends – but we’re so short staffed I can’t,” he said.

The International Association of Firefighters’ Local 2141 union stated that suspending annual leave is a move that should be made in the collective bargaining process, on which it says the city is dragging its feet. The union also says that the city’s proposal for compensation and staffing increases isn’t enough.

“We hired a labor relations agency, and they put forward that nothing that is up for negotiation through collective bargaining be changed,” Jeremy McClayton, an organizer for the union, told ALXnow.

Other moves by APD include:

  • Taking fire Engine 205 (serving Old Town, Del Ray and Potomac Yard) out of service.
  • The Advanced Life Support (ALS) provider from Engine 205 will relocate to Truck 205, converting Truck 205 to an ALS suppression unit.
  • Ambulance 204 will be placed in service on a 24-hour three shift schedule, and holdovers will be used to maintain staffing

Fire Chief Corey Smedley said over the summer that he was concerned with the number of hours his staff have worked.

“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.”

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Morning Notes

How farmers’ markets adapted amid pandemic — “Every Saturday, the Old Town Farmers’ Market, located at 301 King St., teems with people looking to fill their grocery bags and socialize with friends… A trip to the farmers’ market, year round and regardless of weather, is a natural part of the weekend for many vendors and consumers alike.” [Alexandria Times]

First Night events canceled in Alexandria due to COVID-19 — “The fireworks show will go on, but other First Night events are canceled.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Two Alexandria firefighters struck in hit-and-run incident — “Alexandria police are investigating a hit-and-run incident that left two firefighters in the hospital.” [Local DMV]

One Afghan woman’s struggle to resettle in America, help her fellow refugees — “She is now one of 12 Afghans working for LIRS full-time in a paid role from a new office space inside Lutheran Peace Church in Alexandria, Virginia.” [ABC]

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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.”

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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.

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An overloaded electrical outlet is likely the cause behind last month’s three-alarm fire in a Del Ray duplex, the Alexandria Fire Department announced Wednesday.

Two adults and a child were displaced by the blaze, which occurred at around 6 p.m. on Friday, November 19. A cat is still missing, according to APD.

“AFD’s Fire Marshal’s Office conducted an origin and cause investigation and determined that the fire was accidental and originated on the first floor of one of the two units in the residential structure,” AFD said in a release. “Due to extensive fire damage, an exact source of ignition was difficult to determine; however, the probable cause of the fire is attributed to an overloaded electrical outlet where several appliances were connected.”

The duplex has been condemned, and damages are estimated at $1.4 million.

The Del Ray Citizens Association launched a GoFundMe for the residents and raised nearly $40,000.

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(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) A two-vehicle crash Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 24) shut down traffic on N. Van Dorn Street from Taney Avenue to Holmes Run Parkway earlier today.

The incident was reported to the public via Twitter at 10:55 a.m., the Alexandria Fire Department and police are at the scene. Police and medics were dispatched to the scene, according to scanner traffic.

Both drivers suffered injuries, and one of them is in critical condition, according to AFD. Both drivers have been transferred to Inova Alexandria Hospital.

The Police Department’s crash reconstruction unit was at the scene, but Van Dorn Street reopened around noon.

Via Twitter

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In the last few months, a head-long battle between Alexandria’s police and firefighters against city leadership has come to a head as first responders unions say underpayment has left staffing at critical levels.

City staff recently laid out the potential costs to implement a pay raise for first responders, but unions representing those first responders say that sticker shock is less intense in the broader context of the budget.

“The question we should be asking is, ‘Is ensuring high-quality first responder services a priority for this community?'” said Captain Josh Turner, President of the firefighter union IAFF Local 2141. “For a 10% pay increase for our entire fire department, it would only take an additional $3.4 million in the proposed upcoming $780 million budget. That’s less than 0.5% of the upcoming budget. So if this is an actual priority for Council, finding $3.4 million in the existing budget shouldn’t be difficult.”

A 1% pay increase would cost around $3 million and the city would need to increase the tax rate by 0.7 of a cent if it wanted to pay for the increase from tax revenue, acting Human Resources Director Jen Jenkins said at a City Council retreat.

A breakdown of the 1% pay scale increase costs indicated that general city staff comprised $2 million of the $3 million total. At the retreat, City Manager Mark Jinks noted that city employees aren’t unionized like police or firefighters are, but shouldn’t be left out of the pay raise discussion.

For the first responders, the breakdown was:

  • Police Department: around $400,000
  • Fire Department: around $340,000
  • Sheriff’s Office: around $200,000

Not only have first responders said a 1% increase would be “insulting”, Turner said there are alternative sources to pay for the increase.

Turner noted that the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report given to the City Council last night (Tuesday) indicated that there was around $1.9 million left over from the past fiscal year. The chart shows $2.9 left over in the police budget.

“That’s half the money we would need for a 10% increase right there in the leftovers from last year,” Turner said. “We’re not asking the City to go bankrupt, or to deplete the rainy day fund, or for the City to ruin their bond rating. We’re just saying that, if it’s a priority, the City has the money to pay their first responders fairly.”

Marcus Downey, vice president of the police union IUPA Local 5, also objected to the characterization of a tax increase being the only option for funding the pay raise.

“The archaic excuse of requiring a substantial tax increase and placing the burden on City residents is straight out of Alexandria City Hall’s playbook,” Downey said. “Pre-election, we were told employee compensation would be a priority. There were literally zero comments about a need to increase taxes. Less than a week after the election, the conversation quickly shifted to ‘the residents will have to pay more in taxes.'”

Both police and firefighter unions have said low levels of staffing threaten the reliability of city services. Union representatives have previously claimed the low staffing could lead to the closure of a station, a claim Mayor Justin Wilson said was untrue.

“For us, at the end of the day, we’re talking about people,” said Turner. “We’re talking about a half percent for our first responders to get a fair shake — not for a park or for a building or for inanimate objects. We’re talking about people. People who came to work throughout the entire pandemic, running the risk of exposing themselves, and their families, to COVID, in order to serve the City.  People who in some cases have worked over 70 hours a week to provide life-saving services to the citizens of Alexandria.”

The FY 2023 budget discussion is currently in the early stages, with a proposed budget scheduled to be presented on Feb. 17, 2022.

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(Updated 4:45 p.m.) At the start of a City Council retreat this weekend, acting Human Resources Director Jen Jenkins laid out some numbers behind the ongoing discussion over a pay increase for city employees.

City employees — first responders in particular — have criticized city leadership’s handling of employee pay and lamented that the city is, in some respects, lowest in regional pay. The city has laid out plans for a 1.5% pay increase, which unions representing first responders called an insulting lowball.

Jenkins said a 1% pay scale increase would cost an estimated $3 million.

1% pay increase cost, via City of Alexandria

The current real estate tax rate is $1.11 per $100. Jenkins said if the city were to increase taxes to pay for the pay increase, that would come out to a 0.7 cent tax increase. That would go up to 2 cents for a 3% increase, 3.3 cents for a 5% increase, and 6.7 cents tax rate increase for a 10% raise, which is what first responder unions have called for.

Jenkins said city staff are in the process of comparing pay figures for Alexandria with other localities around the region.

During the retreat, City Manager Mark Jinks and Mayor Justin Wilson also outlined some upcoming challenges for pay raise discussions. For one thing, Jinks said that there are sections of city employees that are not unionized, and the city will have to consider their compensation as well beyond groups being advocated for by unions. Wilson also said a rift is forming in funding dedicated to the Sheriff’s Offices and to Police Departments.

“I think we have a specific issue on the public safety side that’s going to be challenging as well and I think the result of last Tuesday will make it even more complex,” Wilson said, “which is this divergence between what’s going on with the sheriff’s departments and what’s going on with policing. We dealt with that a little of this with the process this year because of the way the state dealt with the sheriff’s departments and didn’t do anything for local police. My guess is given the political realities, that will probably be more acute going forward, that you’re going to see considerable state investment in the sheriff’s departments but not the same local support for local police departments.”

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