Arlington’s fire stations have been understaffed for too long, Arlington’s fire union says, and after one of the deadliest years from house fires in some time, firefighters are pushing harder than ever for help.
In the past 12 months, five people in Arlington have died from three separate fires. After an early-morning fire in Douglas Park last June, two firefighters had to be sent to the hospital, and a fire in January might have been fatal had the residents of the house in the Old Glebe neighborhood not had an escape plan and working smoke detectors.
Rescue 109, a truck serving the Pentagon City and Columbia Pike area, that transports firefighters to emergency scenes, responded to most, if not all, of those fires. It, along with Tower 104 in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, has been operating with three staffers, one less than the national standard for safe operating.
“There is no doubt that without safe staffing levels on ACFD firetrucks, we will continue to see tragedies occur in Arlington County,” the Local 2800 says on its website.
Last year, Local 2800 issued a similar statement, asking for more staffing. At the time, the Arlington County Board had directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to conduct a review of public safety staffing and incorporate recommendations into her FY 2016 budget. According to ACFD Chief Jim Schwartz, the study is still ongoing.
There are no new firefighters proposed in Donnellan’s FY 2016 budget. Turning Tower 104 and Rescue 109 into four-person trucks would require adding eight full-time equivalent positions, or $1.3 million, the Local 2800 says.
“The staffing study turned out to be a larger project than I think anyone envisioned,” Schwartz told ARLnow.com today. “I am the one who has been pushing the four-person staffing issue for many, many years. It has been a very, very high priority for us. We’ve been through tough budget times that has made it difficult to add fire staff.”
To try to cover the vacancies, the ACFD has applied for a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant. The grant would pay for the positions for two full years, after which Schwartz says the County Board has pledged to assume the ongoing costs.
The ACFD last received a SAFER grant in 2007, and has been denied that last two times it applied. Schwartz said he feels the last two rejections “gives us a leg up this year,” considering the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which awards the grants, likes to “spread the money around.” Schwartz expects to receive a decision on the grant at the end of the summer.
The Local 2800 has been meeting with County Board members this week, proposing it adds between $500,000 and $600,000 to the FY 2016 budget to cover overtime costs and staff the two undermanned trucks.
“This is much cheaper than the 8 FTE option of $1.3 million because it would utilize existing employees and would not incur additional benefits or pension costs,” the Local 2800 leadership told ARLnow.com in a joint statement.
Schwartz said he does not support the Local 2800’s proposal, and added he is already concerned about the amount of overtime his firefighters have been working. The ACFD must have at least 73 people working at all times, and is already forced to keep firefighters for overtime beyond the 56 hours a week they each work.
“On more occasions that I am comfortable with, we have to hold someone on a mandatory basis because we cannot get someone voluntarily to fill the 73 [required on-duty positions],” he said. “I’m concerned about the effect [more overtime] would have on safety. I have great concern about the stress, and the effect extra hours has on performance.”
According to the fire union, the lack of sufficient fire personnel has already led to a hazardous situation. During last March’s house fire in Nauck, the Local 2800 says “a firefighter assigned to Rescue 109 attempted a heroic rescue of two civilians trapped on the second floor of a house fire. While searching for the trapped residents, the firefighter suffered major burns to his body and respiratory tract, requiring a multiple day stay at the Washington Hospital Burn Unit and several months away from work recovering.
“In this situation, only having three firefighters created a difficult, if not impossible task to effect the rescue of the two trapped civilians,” the union leadership continued. “Additionally, had the burned firefighter not been able to self-extricate the house via a ladder, only one other member of Rescue 109 was available to help get him out.”
Schwartz denied that the lack of staffing was to blame for the two deaths in Nauck, saying “I would argue any suggestion that a fourth person on that company would have in any way changed the outcome either to the victims or the firefighter.”
On top of the two understaffed trucks, Schwartz told ARLnow.com ACFD currently has 14 vacancies, from retirements and firefighters leaving the department, that it is looking to fill in the near future.
Photo, top, via @IAFF2800
Update at 4:50 p.m. – The fire has been extinguished, no one was hurt and roads are reopening.
A reported generator fire in Crystal City is producing a large amount of smoke.
Arlington County Police are shutting down roads in the area around the fire and the plume of smoke, on S. Clark Street between 26th and 27th Streets. Firefighters are on the scene and have brought the fire under control, according to scanner traffic
On today’s clear, sunny day, residents are reporting seeing the smoke from more than a mile away.
— Alex Fleischner (@a_fleisch) February 27, 2015
— Amanda Jean (@YourShaddow2) February 27, 2015
Police Investigating Apartment Break-In, Fire — A man has been arrested and accused of breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and starting a small fire. The incident happened on the 1200 block of S. Scott Street, just off of Columbia Pike, Monday morning. [Washington Post]
Arlington Trying to Keep TSA — After losing the National Science Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Service to Alexandria, Arlington County officials are stepping up their efforts to keep the Transportation Service Administration. The TSA currently has offices in Pentagon City, but at least one office owner is trying to lure the agency to Alexandria. [Washington Business Journal]
Name Chosen for New Park – The future, 8,000 square foot park next to the new Gables North Rolfe apartment complex, which is expected to be approved by the County Board this weekend, now has a name. Various community groups and county commissions have approved “Three Oaks Park” as the park’s name, in honor of the three large trees on the site. [InsideNova]
Building Over I-66 Would be Pricey — A new report has found that building office and apartment buildings over I-66 in Rosslyn would be expensive, but might eventually be worth considering. As much as 2.5 million square feet of new development could be possible by decking over open-air portions of the highway around Rosslyn. [Washington Business Journal]
‘How Arlington Are You?’ Quiz — A questionable, 10-question web quiz on the website of a Crystal City apartment building attempts to answer the question, “how Arlington are you?” Questions include “how many people do you know who work in the defense industry?” and “how often do you go to Starbucks?” [Crystal Square]
Photo courtesy @TheBeltWalk
Update at 2:50 p.m. — The Courthouse station will be reopened shortly. A “test train” is being used to see if it’s safe for Metro to start using the affected stretch of track again. Metro and fire department personnel tell ARLnow.com that there were no communication or coordination problems during the incident response.
The Arlington County Fire Department and Metro personnel are on the scene at the Courthouse Metro station due to an electrical issue on the tracks.
The fire was reported just before 2:00 p.m. It’s said to be an insulator fire in a tunnel just outside the Courthouse station, similar to the electrical malfunction that caused smoke to fill a Yellow Line tunnel last month, killing one person.
The station was evacuated and riders exiting the station said it was moderately smoky inside but not stifling. A slight haze and an electrical smell of something burning was also present outside the station for a period of time.
Firefighters were “working with WMATA to shut down power and extinguish” the fire, according to the ACFD Twitter account. Numerous Metro and fire personnel are on the scene. Police have shut down 15th Street near the station.
As of 2:32 p.m., ACFD said the track fire was extinguished there were “light smoke conditions” inside the station. Some fire trucks have started leaving the scene.
Orange and Silver Line trains are single-tracking past the station, according to Metro.
No injuries have been reported.
Fort Myer and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority firefighters also responded to the incident.
Arlington County firefighters are on the scene of an apartment fire in the River Place condo complex in Rosslyn.
The fire broke out in the kitchen of a 12th floor unit in the River Place building at 1021 Arlington Blvd. It was quickly extinguished once firefighters were able to ascend the stairs and reach the apartment.
A second alarm was sounded but the fire was out by the time the additional units arrive. No injuries have been reported and the flames did not spread to surrounding units.
Firefighters are now working on ventilating smoke from the building.
Photo courtesy @ACFDPIO
Emergency crews have shut down a portion of N. Glebe Road this afternoon after responding to a small fire in a single family house.
The house on the 2500 block of N. Glebe Road, just a few blocks from Marymount University, caught fire at about 2:00 p.m. today. Smoke was coming from a room in the front of the house when fire crews arrived on scene. The flames were quickly extinguished.
There is evident, albeit relatively minor, damage to the exterior of the house near where the fire appeared to have originated.
No injuries have been reported and the cause is under investigation.
Both directions of Glebe were blocked as of 2:30 p.m., with the northbound lanes expected to reopen shortly and the southbound lanes expected to remain blocked off until around 3:00 p.m. or later.
(Updated at 7:05 p.m.) Arlington County firefighters are on the scene of a two-alarm in South Arlington.
The fire was reported in the basement and first floor of condominium on the 2800 block of S. Wakefield Street. As of 7:00 p.m., firefighters on the scene reported that the fire had been extinguished, although they’re still looking for hot spots.
Two people were reportedly transported to the hospital. Several paramedic units have responded to the scene
A large plume of smoke from the fire could be seen from apartments in nearby Shirlington.
Fire Victim Identified — The victim of Thursday’s fatal house fire on S. Randolph Street has been identified. Family and friends said 73-year-old Dennis Lee was a retired contractor, a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan and a member of the local American Legion post. He died from smoke inhalation. In the wake of his death, firefighters plan to canvass Lee’s neighborhood to test and distribute smoke detectors. [NBC Washington – Warning: Auto-play video]
Preserving H-B’s Walls — The walls of the H-B Woodlawn secondary program are covered with more than 2,000 inscriptions from past graduating classes. School officials are considering ways to digitally preserve the painted walls when the program moves to Rosslyn in five years. [Falls Church News-Press]
Historic Designation for Wilson School? — Despite opposition from school officials, the county’s Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to recommend a local historic district designation for the Wilson School in Rosslyn. The Wilson School is the second-oldest school in Arlington and preservationists are trying to save it from being razed to make way for a larger building that will house the H-B Woodlawn program. [InsideNova]
Alexandria Has School Issues, Too — Like Arlington, neighboring Alexandria is also facing a school budget deficit and rising enrollment. Another issue facing Alexandria: competing with Arlington for teachers. Arlington’s average teacher salary is $76,892, compared to $73,612 in Alexandria. [Alexandria Times]
Arlington Named Top ‘Intelligent Community’ — For the third time, Arlington has been named one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities in the world. “It is gratifying to have the Intelligent Community Forum recognize Arlington’s commitment to economic sustainability,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said, in a statement. [Arlington Economic Development]
Destroyed N.J. Apartment Has Arlington Connection — The New Jersey apartment complex that burned to the ground, leaving hundreds homeless, is owned by Arlington-based AvalonBay Communities. The $80 million apartment complex was made from wood construction, which caused it to burn too quickly for firefighters to get it under control. [Bloomberg]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
An electric bicycle shop in the Clarendon area was damaged by a fire Sunday night.
The fire department was called just before 8:00 p.m. for a fire at the Hybrid Pedals shop at 925 N. Jackson Street. The shop sells bikes outfitted with electric motors, also called “eBikes.”
The blaze was extinguished quickly, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani, but caused an estimated $150,000 in damage.
The fire started by the heat from a battery charger, Marchegiani said. No one was at the shop at the time and no injuries were reported.
A second-story bedroom caught fire earlier this afternoon on the 300 block of S. Jackson Street in the Arlington Heights neighborhood.
The Arlington County Fire Department received a call for smoke showing from the bedroom’s window at 1:01 p.m. and the fire was knocked down by 1:15 p.m., according to Deputy Fire Marshal Brian McGraw. Three of the house’s 12 regular occupants were inside when the fire started, a woman and two children, but all refused medical transport.
The damage was largely contained to the bedroom. McGraw said the investigation had just begun into the source and cause of the fire, and couldn’t comment on whether there were working smoke detectors in the residence.
Firefighters, when doing checks of the rooms, found a small amount of marijuana, Arlington County Police Department Lt. Kip Malcolm told ARLnow.com, but the police do not plan on prosecuting the drug charges.
“If someone’s got a joint, or small amount of marijuana, in their house, that isn’t something the police department is going to be interested in spending a whole lot of resources on,” Malcolm said.
Bangkok 54’s grocery store has reopened, nine months after a fire tore through the business and forced it to shut down.
The market is connected to the Bangkok 54 Thai restaurant at 2919 Columbia Pike, which was able to open the day after the Dec. 12 fire. Owner Bundit Sookmee said the fire, which was concentrated in the front of the store, forced him to spend eight months rebuilding and restocking the store, which specializes in Asian grocery products.
“Everything was gone,” he told ARLnow.com today. “The ceiling fell down, there was water everywhere. You couldn’t even walk in here. We had to throw everything away.”
The market reopened three weeks ago, Sookmee said, largely unchanged, aside from a different layout of refrigerators and shelving. One change that could be coming soon: a 15-20 seat cafe serving fast meals like Thai noodle soup for customers in a hurry. The new cafe would be connected to the market, not the Thai restaurant, and Sookmee is currently applying for county permits in hopes of opening soon.
Cherry Trees Planted at Library — As part of its Neighborhood Tree Planting Program, the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Japan-America Society of Washington planted three cherry trees in front of Arlington Central Library yesterday. The program “is an effort to celebrate and share the gift of cherry blossom trees throughout the DC-metro region… and helps create new National Cherry Blossom Festival traditions beyond the Tidal Basin,” festival organizers said in a statement. [Facebook]
Whole Foods Deli, Chicken Counter Stay Closed — The main grocery store and much of the prepared foods sections at the Clarendon Whole Foods (2700 Wilson Blvd) are open following Tuesday’s fire, but county officials say the market deli and chicken counter will stay closed until the health inspector approves its reopening.
County to Consider Privatizing Volunteer Agency — Changes may be coming to Volunteer Arlington, the county’s volunteer agency. Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan is establishing a new advisory task force “to look into whether Arlington’s volunteer office is the right business model to meet community needs.” The task force will consider whether outsourcing Volunteer Arlington “would enhance volunteer activity in the community.” [Arlington County]
Restaurant Exceeds Kickstarter Goal — SER, the winner of Ballston’s Restaurant Challenge, has exceeded its $15,000 Kickstarter goal. The Spanish comfort food restaurant, coming to 1110 N. Glebe Road in Ballston, has so far raised $17,145. It also received a $245,000 interest-free loan as the prize for winning the Restaurant Challenge. [Kickstarter]
Arlington GOP Blasts Olympic Bid — Arlington Republicans do not share Democratic officials’ enthusiasm for the regional bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. “It’s not a great idea,” said local GOP chairman Matt Wavro, citing costs and security concerns. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Rob Cannon
(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) The Whole Foods Market in Clarendon was evacuated Tuesday afternoon after smoke started spewing from the roof.
Arlington County firefighters rushed to the 2700 Wilson Blvd. store after they received a rescue call at about 2:45 p.m., ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani said.
The fire was put out quickly and all customers and staff were ordered to leave as firefighters searched for hot spots.
The blaze started on a stove in the front area where rotisserie chickens are sold and and was extinguished by the store’s employees, Marchegiani said. Patches of grease then caught fire in a cooking vent.
No injuries were reported.
A health inspector was called to ensure the store will be safe for re-entry. When the store can reopen won’t be known until an inspector can make an assessment, county Department of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick said.
“Hopefully it is just minor damage and there are no food safety issues, and they will be back up and running soon,” Larrick said.
One lane of Clarendon Blvd was shut down to accommodate emergency vehicles.
Ethan Rothstein contributed reporting
Firefighters are on the scene of an electrical fire at an apartment building on Columbia Pike.
The fire was reported around 9:45 a.m., at the Dorchester Apartments on the 1900 block of Columbia Pike. The fire is said to be under control.
Dominion crews and a building inspector are en route to the scene.
Update on 9/15/14 — Part of the apartment complex was deemed an “unsafe structure” after the fire, displacing 109 residents, according to an Arlington County news release:
This morning, Arlington County firefighters and building inspectors responded to a minor electrical fire that started in one of the four apartment buildings located at 1930 Columbia Pike. There were no injuries.
An “unsafe structure” order will be in effect as of 7:00 p.m. tonight until further notice. County emergency personnel will be escorting residents into the building to gather their personal belongings. Approximately 109 people are affected. The property management company for the apartment is placing affected residents in nearby hotels.
“Keeping our residents safe is always our number one priority,” said Shahriar Amiri, Arlington County’s Chief Building Official. “Currently, all four buildings are without power, and with these conditions, we’ve determined these buildings to be ‘unsafe’ for residents.”
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.