A quiet life of fostering potbellied pigs, llamas and alpacas on a farm in Prince William County is what lies ahead for Curtis Stilwell. What lies behind Captain II Stilwell is 33 years of service to the Arlington County Fire Department, including the last three as station commander for Fire Station 7 in Fairlington.
Stilwell retired last month, working his last 24-hour shift on Halloween.
Station 7 is known as “The Little House” around the department, according to Fire Chief Jim Schwartz; it’s the smallest house and has just four staffers at a time on a single engine. It’s a small building that opens up right into the captain’s office, where there are plaques on the wall and trophies in a case for serving on Sept. 11, 2001, and for the station winning the 2006 Metro Fire Department Bus Rodeo.
When ARLnow.com visited Stilwell on his last day, he was relaxing at his desk, listening to the radio and reminiscing about old times with Capt. John Snyder, himself a 29-year veteran of the department. Stilwell said he wasn’t one of the people who grew up dreaming of being a firefighter. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he was going to school with money from the GI Bill and working at Sears, but wanted something more stable.
“I just needed a job with regular income and insurance,” he said. After 33 years, though, “I wouldn’t change a second or day of it. You see people at their worst and they thank you for helping them. It’s very humbling.”
Humbled is how Schwartz sounds when he talks about Stilwell’s devotion to charity work in his off time. He’s worked for years as a counselor at the Mid-Atlantic Burn Camp, a gathering place for burn victims to go meet other victims and “not feel so alone.” Stilwell has also been the treasurer of the region’s Aluminum Cans for Burned Children program for more than 20 years.
Stilwell’s stepdaughter is a burn victim, and his eyes start to water when he talks about his work with burn victims and their struggles. It’s far more emotional and personal for him than anything he discusses of being on the job for three decades, including working during Sept. 11.
“When you’re a burn survivor and have a significant injury, people know it,” he said. “A lot of these victims are kids and they just want to feel like they belong, like there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Stilwell’s wife, Renée, works in fire education for the Fairfax County Fire Department. Stilwell was taking care of his mother-in-law on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 after working a shift, when he saw the news and called his wife, telling her he had to go to work. Renée soon joined him.
It would be two weeks until either of them returned home.
“I remember driving on I-66 and it was deserted, like a science fiction movie where everyone disappeared,” he said. “After we got there, they divided everyone into groups doing different things. We were assigned to go in with the FBI and assist with finding victims in the rubble. Not to be too graphic, but we were basically looking for body parts.”
Stilwell’s career started at Fire Station 3 in Cherrydale in 1981. He worked for years in the Fire Prevention Office, and that’s where he left his biggest mark on the county, Schwartz said, setting guidance in not only how the community could prevent fires, but how firefighters protected themselves.
“Early in my career, [Stilwell] was a firefighter with experience that helped to guide many of us who were new to the job,” Schwartz said. “Over time, as we progressed through the ranks, he became one of the guys I most relied on as one of my senior leaders.” (more…)
APS Ranked in Top 100 — Arlington Public Schools has ranked No. 38 on a list of the top 100 school districts in America, published by the education website Niche. [WJLA]
Howze Won Pike Precincts — There was a bright spot for Democrat Alan Howze, who lost to incumbent John Vihstadt in a historic County Board election on Tuesday. Howze narrowly beat Vihstadt in the voting precincts along Columbia Pike. Howze supported the building of the Columbia Pike streetcar while Vihstadt vehemently opposes it. [InsideNova]
Preservation Arlington Opposes School Plans — The group Preservation Arlington wants its supporters to speak out against plans to build a new school on the Wilson School site in Rosslyn and to make changes to the Stratford School that would compromise its “historic integrity.”
No Tysons Wegman’s — A deal to bring a Wegman’s grocery store to Tysons Corner has fallen through. That will likely be disappointing to the many Arlingtonians who have been longing for a Wegman’s location closer than Fairfax or Woodbridge. Arlington isn’t the only D.C. suburb hoping for a Wegman’s, however. Reston residents have been calling for one, though the chain’s general requirement of a 80,000-150,000 square foot store with plenty of surface parking reportedly makes a Reston location unlikely. [Washington Post]
(Updated at 9:00 a.m.) Two people have been killed in an early morning house fire in the Columbia Forest neighborhood.
The two-alarm blaze was reported at 4:17 a.m., at a house on the 1100 block of S. Emerson Street, not far from Wakefield High School.
Firefighters arrived at 4:23 a.m. and found heavy fire extending from the first floor to the second floor. They also encountered an adult and a child who had escaped the fire, standing outside and yelling that another adult and child were trapped inside.
It took about 15 minutes to get the fire under control, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani. Firefighters found the trapped adult and child deceased inside the house.
WJLA reported that the two survivors were an adult man and his middle school-aged daughter. They were transported to Medstar Washington Hospital Center and Children’s National Medical Center, respectively, said Marchegiani.
As is standard procedure for a major fatal fire, Arlington County fire marshals, police and ATF agents are all investigating the blaze.
“It’s going to be a slow and methodical process,” said Marchegiani. “I don’t anticipate any updates today on the cause of the fire.”
In a press release this afternoon, fire officials say the home lacked working smoke detectors.
Early this morning, Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) responded to a house fire at 1106 S. Emerson St. that claimed the lives of two of the occupants. Firefighters arrived to find two victims outside the home with reports of two additional people trapped inside. Firefighters encountered a large volume of fire on the first and second floors. They called a second alarm, bringing a total of approximately 70 firefighters to the scene, including personnel from Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department and Alexandria Fire Department. It took approximately 15 minutes to bring the fire under control and locate the bodies of the two deceased victims.
The two victims found outside the home were transported by medic unit for smoke inhalation and burns to Medstar Washington Hospital Center and Children’s National Medical Center, both in stable condition.
ACFD Fire Marshals are investigating the origin and cause of the fire, with assistance from Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
One occupant reported the home had no working smoke alarms and they were alerted to the fire by the sound of crackling. Smoke alarms allow for early warning of a fire, increasing the time for escape and the chances of survival.
ACFD urges everyone to:
- Install smoke alarms on every floor and in every bedroom.
- Test the alarms every month by pushing the test button.
- Change the batteries in the alarms twice a year with daylight savings time.
- Replace all alarms every 10 years, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Ensure every person in your home knows and practices your home escape plan. Include a plan for anyone in your home that needs assistance evacuating. Remember to have two ways out of every room, get low, close the door behind you, go to your family meeting place and once outside, stay outside.
Read more information on smoke alarms or request a smoke alarm if you cannot afford to purchase one.
Prosecutors say police began investigating Ogregory Hamilton after receiving a tip that the firefighter was dealing drugs. Earlier this year, police also received a tip that the Dumfries resident intended to sell cocaine near Carpool in Ballston on April 17. Detectives staked out the area and observed Hamilton arrive and park at the designated spot for the planned deal.
Police ended up detaining Hamilton and found cocaine inside the trunk during a search of his vehicle, according to a statement of facts entered as part of the plea. Police also searched his home and found a digital scale and baggies commonly used for packaging drugs. The baggies reportedly also had a white, powdery residue that appeared to be cocaine.
There is no indication that Hamilton dealt cocaine on county time or used any county resources to carry out any transactions, according to prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to a lower charge of cocaine possession earlier this month.
Hamilton’s sentencing is set for January 30, 2015.
Participants in the 39th Marine Corps Marathon were met with sunny, albeit breezy, conditions for Sunday’s race through parts of Arlington and the District.
Army Spc. Samuel Kosgei of Junction City, Kansas, finished first at 2:22:11. Two Arlington residents rounded out the top five finishers: Michael Wardian came in fourth with a time of 2:25:41 and Graham Tribble was close behind, finishing at 2:25:51.
Meghan Curran of Moorestown, New Jersey, led the women, with a time of 2:51:46. Lindsay Wilkins of Arlington was the second woman to cross the finish line, coming in at 2:52:19 and Arlington’s Erin Taylor came in fifth for women, at 2:52:53.
The Arlington County firefighters who participated in the race with full gear in honor of fellow firefighter Josh — who recently was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — were met with cheers and cowbells from bystanders.
When ARLnow.com caught up with Batallion Chief Dan Fitch during the race, he said he and the other team members were “pretty sore.” The firefighters spotted Josh at numerous points during the marathon, prompting Fitch to say, “He’s as much support for us as we are for him.”
Josh managed to meet a group of the firefighters toward the end of the course and finished the race with them. An email from one of the team members said, “This was something that will stay with us forever.”
The official MCM results page indicates more than 27,000 participants crossed the finish line for the marathon and 10K races.
Thirteen Arlington County firefighters plan to run the Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday in full gear that can weigh up to 45 pounds.
The firefighters are running the 26.2 miles around Arlington and D.C. to raise money for multiple sclerosis after a firefighter named Josh — who doesn’t want his last name released for privacy reasons — was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in June. Josh worked out of Fire Station 6 in East Falls Church with firefighter Jake Pike, who is organizing the run.
“Our brother Josh is the glue of our firehouse, the jokester, the infectious personality that always smiles and is always positive,” Pike wrote on the fundraising page for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website. “In June 2014, our Captain came into the room with very solemn news. The glue of the crew and our brother had been in the ER all night and was diagnosed with MS.
“It is the only time I have heard our firehouse completely quiet. Not a sound from 12 strong A-list personalities was heard. The room went dead silent. At that moment you could feel that something left the room. It was devastating news. For the next few days each one of us grappled with the news, studied and read as much about MS as we could and some went home and cried. We were in shock.”
Pike told ARLnow.com today that a few weeks later, he and the other firefighters at Station 6 had resolved to run the Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for MS research and to support, as Pike called him, “our brother.”
“It wasn’t long enough to train for a marathon, but was kind of the perfect opportunity to do something,” Pike said. “We told him after the fact and he got mad at us because he didn’t want to draw attention to it. He’s a private guy, but I think he appreciates it. He’ll be there at the finish line for us.”
Some of the 13 participants will be wearing pressurized oxygen tanks and helmets, while others will just be wearing the suits, Pike said. The firefighters are nervous about the suits, Pike said, since they are designed to retain heat and weather forecasts are calling for an unseasonably warm day.
“None of us have run it before, and we’re not runners,” Pike said with a nervous laugh. “The biggest challenge for us is the weather. So if it’s hot and humid like it’s supposed to be, that’s going to be an issue. Then there’s the five-hour mark, you have the hit the [14th Street Bridge] in five hours or you’re not going to finish.”
Regardless of the result, Pike and his colleagues have already raised $5,630 for the MS society, and hope to raise even more Sunday when the tens of thousands of runners and spectators see the group of firefighters in full gear running alongside. A large contingent of the Arlington County Fire Department is expected to attend to support the group, and Josh.
“It’s really for the guy we wake up next to every day,” Pike said, “so hopefully it makes it easier for him.”
You can donate to their cause and help them reach their $30,000 fundraising goal here.
Members of the Arlington County Fire Department blocked off the parking lot to the Arlington Historical Museum in Aurora Hills and climbed to the top of the Hume School on Tuesday morning. There was no emergency, the firefighters simply helped to fix the old school’s bell.
The bell functioned as a call to school children from 1891 until 1956. More recently, visitors to the museum could ring the bell. That is, until the rope broke when a visitor pulled it a little too enthusiastically.
“We encourage all visitors, particularly kids, to ring the bell when they’re visiting the museum. It’s just great to hear that sound and it’s been silent for months because the rope broke,” Arlington Historical Society President John Richardson said. “We think somebody was very eager and just broke it.”
Truck 105 from the Crystal City station used its 100 foot ladder to access the bell tower, which is nearly unreachable without special equipment. Richardson said he and an assistant previously had tried to access the bell to fix the rope, but it was too dangerous.
“It’s very difficult to get up to the bell tower safely,” said Richardson. “You can’t get up that sloping roof.”
It was going to be expensive to hire someone to bring out equipment to access the bell so instead, Richardson contacted ACFD Chief Jim Schwartz to see if the department could help out.
“We’re the only ones that have a ladder long enough to reach up there and put the rope back on for them,” said Capt. Chuck Kramaric of Station No. 5.
After one of the firefighters climbed into the tower to make repairs, the whole crew went inside the old schoolhouse to test out the new rope. They took turns ringing the bell, while Richardson expressed his thanks for their work.
“We love the ACFD,” Richardson said. “They’re really great.”
Fmr. Arlington Man Pleads Guilty to Murder — Lamont Deshawn Terry, a 39-year-old former Arlington resident, has pleaded guilty to the 1992 fatal shooting of a D.C. man at Hains Point. Terry had driven from Arlington to D.C. with plans to commit a robbery when he encountered victim Chet Hunter Matthews and his girlfriend in a parked car. [Washington Post]
Heritage Center in Courthouse? – An Arlington Heritage Center, hosting exhibits about Arlington’s history and cultural heritage, could eventually be built in Courthouse. Officials are looking at the redeveloped Courthouse Square area as a potential site for the long-sought center. A heritage center on Columbia Pike, which had been discussed previously, is apparently no longer being considered. [InsideNova]
Crystal City McDonald’s Lease Sells for Millions — A ground lease for the Crystal City McDonald’s, at 2620 Jefferson Davis Highway, has been sold for $7.35 million, a possible record. The McDonald’s, which pays around $300,000 per year to lease the land, is expected to remain there through 2026. [Washington Business Journal]
ACFD’s 9/11 Response — Last Thursday, Arlington County fire chief James Schwartz recounted the department’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Arlington was uniquely prepared for the unfathomable attack, thanks to its location and response to other major disasters like the 1982 Air Florida crash, Schwartz said. He also lauded Arlington’s role in the evidence gathering effort, which included finding the terrorists’ drivers’ licenses. [Falls Church News-Press]
WJLA Takes Right Turn Under New Ownership — Rosslyn-based WJLA (ABC 7) has taken a rightward turn following its purchase by Sinclair Broadcast Group. The station now airs conservative commentary, critical of President Obama and “government waste,” during its newscasts. It has also fired much of its longtime management team. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Highmuckmuck
A dryer caught fire early this evening in a townhouse on the 1100 block of N. Taylor Street in Ballston, igniting the laundry room in the basement of a home.
The Arlington County Fire Department arrived on the narrow street at 5:00 p.m., according to ACFD Battalion Chief Dan Fitch. The home’s occupant found the fire, left the building and called 9-1-1, Fitch said No one else was inside and no injuries were reported.
The fire was knocked down at 5:08 p.m., before it could spread to other rooms or to any neighboring units, Fitch said. The street smelled slightly of smoke in the minutes following the small blaze, but no trace of fire damage could be seen from the exterior of the house.
State Dept. Office Consolidation — The GSA is working with the State Department on a plan for consolidating its two offices in Rosslyn into one office in either Rosslyn, Ballston, Pentagon City or Crystal City. [Washington Business Journal]
Ohio Woman Charged in Arlington Boy’s Death — A 62-year-old woman has been charged in the death of 8-year-old Ashlawn Elementary student Eli Sachar. Police in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, have charged Christine Gregory with aggravated vehicular homicide, reckless operation and failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, after she struck Eli and his family with her car as they were crossing a street while visiting the town. [WKYC]
ACFD Training for Active Shooter at the Pentagon – The Arlington County Fire Department is training with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency on active shooter scenarios at the Pentagon. During an actual active shooter situation, under newly-updated plans, armed Pentagon Force Protection officers would escort unarmed Arlington medics into the area where the shooting was happening so they can begin medically treating the victims. [Washington Times]
Library Sends Erroneous Overdue Emails — Arlington Public Library sent erroneous emails yesterday incorrectly stating that patrons had overdue books. “We apologize for the inconvenience, and are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” the library said on its website. “If you have any questions about what materials are actually checked out to you, you can check by logging in to your account online or at any Library location.” [Arlington Public Library]
Metro: Eight-Car Trains More Effective Than I-66 Widening — Metro says adding all-eight-car trains to the Orange Line is the capacity equivalent of widening I-66 by two lanes. “Plus, it’d likely be cheaper and faster for commuters, too,” Metro planners say. [PlanItMetro]
Fireball Seen Across Mid-Atlantic — Arlington residents and those across the mid-Atlantic saw a fireball streak across the sky last night around 10:15 p.m. Wrote one reader to ARLnow.com: “Was out on my back porch [in Lyon Park] looking west and at exactly 10:15 p.m. I saw a crazy, bright shooting star fall from North Arlington over Columbia Pike and towards the ground near Shirlington. Totally time from sighting to out of sight behind the trees was 4 seconds tops.” [Capital Weather Gang]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
A car ran off the road and into the woods on westbound I-66 at the Route 110 ramp, near Rosslyn.
The wreck happened around 12:30 p.m. Rescuers responded for a report of an occupant trapped in the vehicle, but that person was apparently able to get out before firefighters arrived on scene.
Two people were reportedly transported to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) A house fire just before 2:00 a.m. Tuesday did $150,000 of damage and sent two firefighters to the hospital, but the home’s occupants were unharmed.
At 1:51 a.m., Arlington County Fire Department received a call for a house fire on the 1700 block of S. Oakland Street, just two blocks away from Fire Station 9 on S. Walter Reed Drive, according to ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani. The occupants, two adults and an infant, had gotten out of their Douglas Park house safely after being woken up by a fire alarm.
The fire was “inside the walls” on the second story of the house, Marchegiani said, making it difficult for firefighters to douse the flames. The fire spread across the second floor and into the attic before firefighters were able to contain and extinguish it.
“It took almost an hour to knock down the fire because they had to basically open the walls to find the fire,” Marchegiani said, adding that the firefighters “were experiencing heavy heat.”
Two firefighters were transported to the hospital via ambulance, one suffering from smoke inhalation and another from “minor trauma.” Marchegiani said both are in good condition as of late this morning.
Marchegiani emphasized that the fire could have turned tragic if it weren’t for the house’s alarms. The Fire Marshal is conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire.
“We credit the fact that there were no injuries to the occupants to the working smoke alarms,” Marchegiani said. “That’s really the message we’re trying to push.”
Arlington Fire Chief Jim Schwartz on Tuesday presented the County Board with recommendations from the county’s latest fire station location study, and the results are not without controversy.
A consultant has recommended that Arlington move Fire Station 8 further north, defying neighborhood protestations; close the “neighborhood treasure” Fire Station 7; and build a new fire station on the eastern portion of Columbia Pike.
Tuesday was the first time the Board had received a detailed public rundown of results in the TriData report from December 2012. The report assessed Arlington’s need for emergency services and how needs have changed. The last assessment of Arlington’s fire response needs had been nearly 13 years prior.
“Communities on a regular basis need to assess where their fire stations are,” said Schwartz. “Communities change a great deal, this one certainly has in the last couple of decades.”
Schwartz explained that 60 percent of Arlington County Fire Department’s activity comes from emergency medical calls, 30 percent from fire or hazmat calls and 10 percent are non-emergency public service calls, such as stuck elevators. The sections of Arlington County producing the most calls consistently coincide with the most densely populated areas. Fire Station No. 5, near Crystal City, is currently the busiest in Arlington.
ACFD aims to respond to all fire calls within four minutes of being dispatched, and respond to medical calls within eight minutes. However, those goals are not being met in the northern portion of the county, Schwartz noted. He said there is no fire station located in the northernmost part of the county, which causes response times there to be longer than in areas with better station coverage.
“We have not been physically located where we can get to the northernmost portion of the county in four minutes. So that has been a long term goal of the department, to move a facility into an area that physically enables us to get there as quickly as possible,” said Schwartz.
The need to offer better coverage in the northern part of the county prompted a recommendation in the TriData report to move Station No. 8 from its position on Lee Highway in the Hall’s Hill/Highview neighborhood to county-owned land at Old Dominion Drive and 26th Street N., near Marymount University.
That proposal rankled members of the Old Dominion Civic Association, who say the county did not reach out and allow residents to give feedback. Several residents of that neighborhood believe the land on which the new station would be built should instead be preserved as park space.
“I will acknowledge the report recommended as better sites from a response perspective, Williamsburg Blvd at Glebe Road, and Rock Spring Road at Glebe Road. Both areas where there is a lot of private property that I do not envision us taking. And so we said, what’s the next best alternative, and they focused back on the recommendation of 26th and Old Dominion,” said Schwartz.
Several County Board members echoed the community concern over a lack of explanation for building a fire station at the proposed site.
“We do need more information,” said Board member Walter Tejada. “I guess the concern people feel, the reason is they have been surprised or blindsided by it. I’m hoping those questions will be answered so we can pass them on to our residents who want to know how did this come about.”
The plan, to relocate Fire Station 8 from Lee Highway to a county-owned parcel of land on Old Dominion Drive near Marymount University, was included in Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s recommended Capital Improvement Plan. The plan (see pp. C-86 and C-88) also calls for the county’s Emergency Operations Center to be relocated from Courthouse to the new fire station site, and for an adjacent salt and mulch storage yard to be replaced and modernized.
The existing Emergency Operation Center is located in a building that’s set to be torn down to make way for the county’s Courthouse Square project and the salt storage yard, which serves snow removal crews in North Arlington, is past its useful life, according to the CIP. The fire station is set to be relocated from 4845 Lee Highway following a 2013 study that suggested the Old Dominion location would improve fire department response times in the area.
“When Arlington County published their Proposed FY 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan on May 13th, the residents of the Old Dominion and Donaldson Run Civic Associations, did not have a clue as to the green space ‘hijacking’ the County had in store for their residential neighborhoods,” an Old Dominion Civic Association representative told ARLnow.com via email.
A flyer is being sent to local residents, encouraging them to speak out in opposition to the plan.
“STOP THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR GREEN SPACE!” the flyer reads. “The proposed CIP calls for leveling of all the county-owned green space from 25th Street through the corner of 26th Street and Old Dominion… OPPOSE THE APPROVAL OF THE 25th/26th STREET OFFICE PARK AND FIRE STATION AND MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD!”
Richard Lolich, president of the Old Dominion Citizens Association, said that there are lots of families with young children in the neighborhood.
“Because of this there is a real need for good park space for these children and families,” he said. “The County’s proposed location for the relocated fire station is on property that is ideal for a park in the neighborhood — the only neighborhood in Arlington currently without a dedicated park. We strongly feel that the County should address this issue before destroying green space in the middle of our neighborhood.”
The proposed site is within 2 miles of Potomac Overlook Regional Park and 1 mile of Greenbrier Park.
This morning, the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association (the IAFF Local 2800) issued a long, detailed statement on the need to staff Tower 104, which serves the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, and Rescue 109, which serves Pentagon City and Columbia Pike, with four firefighters, as opposed to their current three-person staffs.
“Tower 104 and Rescue 109, with an ever-rising response area population, massive increase in high-rise square footage, terrorism threat, and other changing factors, require adequate staffing to safely and effectively carry out our assignments,” the Local 2800 writes. “The current staffing of three firefighters is woefully and dangerously inadequate.”
Rescue 109 was one of the first responders to the house fire in Nauck on March 15 that claimed two lives, and the firefighter who was injured fighting the blaze was on the three-person truck. He has not yet returned to duty, according to the Local 2800.
Tower 104 is a large fire truck with a ladder and “bucket” that puts firefighters into position, while Rescue 109 is a truck with no ladder that transports firefighters to emergency scenes, but comes equipped with tools for responding to car accidents and building collapses, according to Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz. Both trucks are staffed with firefighter/EMTs.
Schwartz said he has been advocating for four-person units for years, but he said budget constraints have prevented Tower 104 and Rescue 109 from joining the rest of the county’s fleet with four-person staffs.
“It’s been a longstanding position of mine and it has been advocated by the department for some time,” Schwartz told ARLnow.com this afternoon. “Obviously, the Board has to make policy decisions. I think they, too, would like to get to four-person staffing in each of the units. Sometimes the budget guidance is limiting in that regard.”
Schwartz said four-person staffing is not as simple as just hiring two more firefighters. Each additional firefighter on a truck is the equivalent of four full-time positions, to account for three eight-hour shifts a day and covering for vacation and sick leave.
“In order to achieve the safe staffing levels that we’re after, it would require us to hire eight new positions,” he said. “That’s not an insignificant budget issue. It’s doable, and I think the Board is supportive of this effort.”
Schwartz said years ago, only about half of Arlington’s fire trucks were manned by four-person crews, but the last time the county added staff to bring fire trucks up to four-person teams was in 2004.
Four-person trucks are not just the ideal position for the union, Schwartz said, but it’s also the national standard as dictated by the National Fire Protection Association and several other advocacy groups. Despite the fact that Tower 104 and Rescue 109 are assigned to some of the county’s most densely populated areas, the decision to leave specifically those two units undermanned was done after careful risk analysis.
“Almost every unit in the department is quite busy and has a level of responsibility that is not greater or lesser than any other unit in the system,” he said. “We have 14 suppression units in service every day. Twelve have four-person staffing, and those were selected based on judgments we make that have a lot to do with call activity, the kind of calls that units run. I have to make judgments based on the resources I’ve been allocated.”
Schwartz said the County Board gave County Manager Barbara Donnellan direction to “review all public safety staffing and to make a recommendation for FY 2016,” at a budget meeting last month. To the Local 2800, FY 2016 is already too late.
“It has been shown that increased staffing reduces firefighter injuries, thus reducing the amount of money paid by Arlington taxpayers to care for and backfill with overtime employees,” the union writes. “Tower 104 and Rescue109 are limited in being able to safely, quickly, and effectively perform… critical functions while understaffed with three firefighters… This is dangerous and unacceptable.”