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(Updated 2:55 p.m.) Short staffing reportedly led to a fire engine serving parts of the Rosemont and Carlyle neighborhoods — along with parts of Del Ray and Old Town — due to a staffing shortage.

IAFF Local 2141, which has been battling with the City of Alexandria for months over staffing issues, has repeatedly cited engine shutdowns due to staffing shortages as an example of the impact caused by short staffing.

City officials have previously challenged those claims, saying the departments are well-funded and highlighting closed stations is part of a collective bargaining strategy on the part of the union.

The Fire Department released a statement about Engine 205 being taken offline, saying the closure was only overnight to reallocate staffing and there were no significant incidents impacted by the closure.

According to the Fire Department:

Fire/EMS apparatus regularly go out of service for business matters including community outreach, training, maintenance, and ceremonies such as the Ivy Hill Memorial. Additionally, there are occasions when an injury and/or illness occurs to our first responders which may impact our normal deployment strategy. Around 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, Engine 205 went out of service to reallocate staffing to maintain an EMS Officer on Medic 205 and place a basic life support (BLS) unit in service to provide additional transport resources. Engine 205 returned to service at 7 a.m. Monday, Oct. 17. No significant incidents were impacted by Engine 205 being out of service.

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There were no injuries after a small fire in the vent shaft of an apartment building in the Fairlington neighborhood on Tuesday, September 20.

The Alexandria Fire Department was dispatched to the Waypoint apartment building at 2451 Menokin Drive at around 10 a.m. It took just over an hour for AFD to leave the scene.

“Units responded to the location finding a small fire in the vent shaft and quickly extinguishing the fire,” Alexandria Fire Department Senior Public Information Officer  Raytevia Evans said. “At the time units arrived, the building was already being evacuated.”

The apartment building is next door to Fairlington Presbyterian Church and near the intersection of Menokin Drive and King Street.

Map via Google Maps

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It’s been nearly two months since the International Association of Firefighters Local 2141 tweeted about staff holdovers or equipment failure. For years the union has alerted the public of major outstanding issues, but their silence isn’t because things are getting better.

Things are just really busy, says union President Captain Josh Turner.

During the week of July 4, Turner worked more than 100 hours straight, in addition to leading the union’s collective bargaining negotiating team. Turner and his team are working with the city to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement by mid-November — just before the first City Council budget retreat.

“There’s a lot going on here,” said Union President Captain Josh Turner. “Everybody on the on the union side of negotiation team already works a 56-hour work week, and we continue to have staffing issues.”

Mayor Justin Wilson did not comment on what negotiated agreements with the Fire Department, Police Department and Sheriff’s unions could mean budget-wise for the city.

“The (City) Manager has certainly kept us updated on the ongoing negotiations with both the police and fire union,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We hope to conclude those negotiations in the next few weeks/months.”

Fire Chief Corey Smedley has attended a handful of the negotiating sessions, and said that his staff have received significant raises in the fiscal year 2023 budget, which went into effect July 1.

“The department needs everybody to do their part,” he told ALXnow. “Whether that’s our firefighters and paramedics on the front line, whether that’s our human resource professionals and other support staff, we need them to continue to do great work that they do every day.”

Smedley continued, “The frontline personnel, firefighters and paramedics have or will receive anywhere between a 9% and 12% raise this fiscal year, with the combination of their market scale adjustment and their merit increases.”

The fiscal year 2023 budget included a 7% raise for firefighters, medics and fire marshals; a 6% raise for Police Department and Sheriff’s Office staff and a 4.5% raise for general city employees.

The raise fell short of the 10% that the union wanted, and while the financial terms and conditions of the collective bargaining remain tightly under wraps, firefighters have been hit by inflation.

“The fire department’s on fire,” Turner said. “You can make $14,000 more a year as a paramedic in Loudoun County than you would here in the city. Frankly, our members live out there anyway because they can’t afford to live in Alexandria. I got guys going, ‘Hey, man, why would I stay? I love the community. I want to be here, but I’m driving through three counties, including the one that’s going to pay me more, to get to Alexandria.'”

In July, the union said that frequent equipment failures put the lives of residents at risk.

According to the Alexandria Fire Department, between August 2021 and August 2022, about three AFD staffers were held over per day.

The department has 289 sworn employees and 23 civilian employees, and the department needs 347 to be fully staffed. Additionally, 25 employees (sworn and civilian) left the department this year, and AFD training academy expects 19 new recruits to graduate in January.

Smedley says the department needs 26 more sworn and civilian positions, and that the FY2023 budget allows him to hire 20 staffers to fill the gap.

Additionally, Smedley said that AFD should, within the next several weeks, receive several new vehicles.

“We have also purchased some fleet that we are anticipating within the next couple of weeks receiving and being able to place in service so that we can ease some of the burden of our older fleet,” Smedley said. “We are receiving in the next couple of weeks to place in service five new ambulances.”

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Firefighters aren’t the best eaters, and an upcoming fundraiser aims to give Alexandria’s first responders healthier options.

The Alexandria Fire Foundation is hosting the fundraiser, which includes freebies for kids and adults and raffles for Washington Wizards and Washington Nationals games. It will be held at Waterfront Park (1 Prince Street) on Sunday, September 11, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Most people are not aware that our firefighters have to pay for all their own groceries for the three meals a day they eat at the fire houses,” said Lorie Green, vice president of the AFF.

The main cause of death for on-duty firefighters is heart disease, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The AFF has partnered with D.C. firefighter Jonathan Tate, the founder of nonprofit Food on the Stove, and proceeds from the event will go toward supplying Alexandria firefighters with free healthy meals.

“Since the fire fighters have to buy their own food, they often buy food that is cheaper and easy to make – think fatty pasta dishes. Food on the Stove is changing that mindset by providing free healthy meals,” Green said.

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Alexandrians are likely to see more firefighters on the streets next week as the Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) launches its “Fill the Boot” campaign to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disease that causes the progressive loss of muscle mass. The campaign is an annual fundraiser for the AFD, raising money for treatment and other forms of support for those dealing with muscular dystrophy.

“Between 2015 and 2019, AFD has raised more than $230,000 for MDA, and the goal this year is to raise $50,000,” AFD said in a press release. “Every boot drive helps families with muscular dystrophy in your community by funding research for new treatments, supporting MDA Care Centers, and sending kids to MDA Summer Camp.”

The campaign is set for Tuesday, Aug. 30, Sept. 1-2, and Sept. 5-7.

This year, the campaign is a cooperative effort between on-duty AFD personnel, Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department personnel, off-duty volunteers, friends and family, and members of local labor organizations.

AFD said the campaign is scheduled to host fundraising efforts at:

  • Van Dorn Street/Edsall Road
  • Richmond Highway/East Glebe Road
  • King Street/Quaker Lane/Braddock Road
  • Washington Street/Slaters Lane OR King Street
  • Duke Street/Patrick Street OR Henry Street
  • Duke Street/Quaker Lane

Those interested in contributing can also do so online.

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Alexandria firefighters say the city and its mutual aid partners in neighboring jurisdictions were left unprepared in the event of an emergency last week, but the Alexandria Fire Department says everything was covered.

In a tweet on July 7 (Thursday), the International Association of Firefighters Union 2141 issued a public safety announcement that the city had only two fire trucks and no rescue apparatus in operation.

The union also says that the city is gambling with the lives of its residents by depending too often on its mutual aid partners in neighboring jurisdictions — the Arlington, Fairfax and Prince George’s County Fire Departments.

AFD confirmed that on July 6 (Wednesday), a heavy rescue squad vehicle went out of service for a day-and-a-half and was replaced during that time by a reserve vehicle. The following day, July 7, a ladder truck went out of service for repair and was briefly replaced by a spare engine sitting in Old Town’s Station 201, which has been closed for floor repairs.

According to AFD:

The Alexandria Fire Department maintains state-of-the-art frontline and reserve apparatus fleet. These apparatus are specialized vehicles that can require repair from time to time. On July 6th, a heavy rescue squad vehicle required a repair that was completed in a day and a half and then was back in service. During this time, another reserve vehicle was placed into service. A ladder truck went out of service for repair on July 7th and was back in service on the same day. During that time a reserve vehicle was placed into service until the ladder truck was repaired. At no time was there a safety risk to our residents or city personnel.

The department uses National Fire Protection Association Standards to meet service demands. Regionally, we also share automatic and mutual aid capabilities to maintain public safety within the region, in which various jurisdictions rely on each other for calls for service. The department continues to evaluate the growth of the city and make deployment adjustments to address the community’s needs.

One Alexandria firefighter who works in operations, and did not want their name posted out of fear of retaliation, said that the heavy rescue squad vehicle was replaced by an empty reserve engine, which only had fire hoses on it.

“A truck broke down and we didn’t have a current reserve truck,” the firefighter said. “That truck company was actually put onto an engine. You can’t swap ladders and all the bigger tools and chainsaws onto an engine, because there’s not the space for it.”

The firefighter continued, “They were capable of running certain calls, like they were able to reset fire alarms, they were able to run EMS calls because they had their EMS equipment with them. But they weren’t able to act as a truck, they weren’t able to ladder a building — other than one 24-foot ladder and the 14-foot ladder that comes on the side of engines. They weren’t able to operate as a truck company. Luckily for the rescue, we had an engine, because we have Station 201 that’s currently out of service, and the engine is fully stocked, sitting there and waiting to be used for when that station goes back in service.”

Mayor Justin Wilson spoke with AFD after the tweet was posted, and said that the Department “didn’t miss a beat.”

“My understanding in talking to AFD last week is that this related to a mechanical issue with two separate pieces of apparatus that were quickly repaired, and that they had backup apparatus available to ensure we didn’t miss a beat,” Wilson told ALXnow.

Union organizer Jeremy McClayton says that the public doesn’t know the difference in the fire department’s jargon — between a truck or an engine.

“Tell someone who lives in a high-rise that an engine and truck are the same,” McClayton said. “The truck, using the truck ladder, can get up to the tenth floor in the event of a high-rise rescue or fire, while an engine can go up two stories. Same thing with engines and the rescue – the rescue apparatus has the vehicular extraction on it (jaws of life). An engine can’t hold that, so replacing a rescue with an engine means we don’t have the same response capabilities.”

In the meantime, the City Attorney’s Office and the union are hammering out the rules of their collective bargaining negotiations. The union frequently tweets about firefighters working too many hours of forced overtime, equipment failure and more.

Firefighter Megan Ellzy, a former IAFF Local 2141 president, has been with the department 12 years, and says that the city is playing a dangerous game.

“We’re really hoping that (new City Manager Jim) Parajon comes in with his planning background and that he kind of has some forethought and encourages our department to be proactive and preventative, versus waiting until a catastrophe happens,” Ellzy said. “And you know that whole ‘thoughts and prayers thing,’ right? Our leaders are gonna take pictures with us and come to the funerals and all, but it could have all been avoided.”

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

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

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

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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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