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Arlington Sees Decline in Number of Large Loss Fires

by ARLnow.com March 5, 2012 at 10:01 am 2,970 29 Comments

There were only three “large loss” fires in Arlington in Financial Year 2011, according to new figures out with the Arlington County Fire Department’s proposed FY 2013 budget.

The three large loss fires (causing more than $50,000 in damage) compare to 10 large loss fires in both FY 2009 and FY 2010, and 20 large loss fires in FY 2008.

“One is too many… [but] for us that’s a big milestone, a big accomplishment,” Fire Chief James Schwartz told ARLnow.com. Schwartz credited the community for good fire prevention practices and for quickly calling 911 whenever they see a fire. He also credited Arlington firefighters for fast response times and a high degree of firefighting competence.

“Obviously large fires start as small fires, so the quicker we can get [notification] and the quicker we can get highly competent firefighters on the incident scene, the more we can contain the fire and hopefully keep it small,” Schwartz said. In FY 2011, the average response time was 4.2 minutes.

Financial Year 2012 doesn’t end until the last day of June, but fire officials are projecting another good year for the department. The number of large loss fires is projected at 5, and average response time is projected at 4.1 minutes. Among the estimates for other types of calls handled by the fire department in FY 2012:

  • Medical calls: 16,000
  • Fire and fire alarm calls: 8,000
  • Hazmat calls: 1,000
  • Non-emergency public service calls: 1,700

The proposed $49 million fire department budget for FY 2013 actually cuts funding to the department by 2 percent, but Schwartz says the decrease is due to specific program cuts and will not impact the number of firefighters on duty. The two biggest reductions in expense comes from a smaller firefighter recruiting class and the elimination of regional emergency medical program that Arlington operated under grant funding from the federal government.

  • bob

    Great. So can we not roll 5 trucks on a medical emergency. Thanks. An Arlington resident who can’t stand the constant fire truck sirens.

    • AllenB


      I say to the ACFD – roll as many as YOU think is needed.

    • Stitch_Jones

      And allow me to guess – you are sick of jet noises from planes landing. And also of helicopter noises along the highway from the Pentagon to Quantico and Andrews. And of the canons fired at Ft. Myer. And of traffic noise during rush hour.

      And if only four trucks showed up to an emergency at your home you would be the first to complain if everything did not go perfectly.

      I hear rural Canada doesn’t have any of these problems.

      An Arlington resident tired of constant petty complaints from commenters.

      • bob

        Notice, I said medical emergency. Why are they rolling multiple trucks when somehow has a heart attack?

        • Stitch_Jones

          You were complaining about constant fire truck sirens. Are they distinguishable from ambulance sirens to you?


        • Arlington, Northside

          Really? Additional units roll for ALS (Advanced Life Support) emergencies due to the possible need for additional man power to save a LIFE! Should you have a heart attack, would you like them to just rool an ambulance with the flow of traffic, even at rush hour, and wait until they see if you really need help before calling in more folks to help? Really/

    • JJ

      You don’t get 5 trucks for a medical call. Here is how it’s broken down.

      BLS (basic life support) call–1 ambulance
      ALS (advanced life support call) such as trouble breathing, diabetic–1 ambulance and 1 fire engine staffed with EMT-Basics and often with paramedic/firefighters.
      ALS calls such as trauma, heart attack, pediatric calls, CPR, suicides etc..–1 ambulance, 1 engine company, 1 EMS supervisor (drives SUV).

      You would be surprised how many people it takes to perform CPR and provide advanced care on a person who weighs 200 lbs and is on the third floor in a bathroom wedged between the tub and toilet. Do you really think two people is enough to effectively treat that patient?

      You complain about constant sirens, so I assume you live close to a fire station. I’m willing to bet that fire station was there before you were.

    • drax

      Um, bob? You realize that sometimes the way they prevent large-loss fires is by sending 5 trucks to make sure a small fire is extinguished fast, right?

  • SomeGuy

    These metrics don’t capture that large loss conflagration of cash known as Artisphere. Or that streetcar fueled one being kindled down on Columbia Pike.

    • JohnB


      Off topic.

  • Garden City

    Not surprising. This is the trend across the country and has been for several years, largely due to changes in building codes and improvements in materials. It causes a quandary for municipal officials as they try to appropriately staff and equip emergency services, for even though you have fewer significant fires, if you do have one, the response necessary is the same as its always been.

    • DSS10

      Garden City:
      March 5th, 2012 10:21 am
      Not surprising. This is the trend across the country and has been for several years, largely due to changes in building codes and improvements in materials.

      – I think that Arlington has loosened it’s code with some of these large “stick” apartment complexes that are going up. I said it in another post but they are building apartments with out any fire walls (not the IT kind). where there are wood joists and no fire walls between apartments (normally cinder block walls). This is real 3rd world building practices……

      • JohnB

        I don’t believe Arlington County sets the building code. I think it is the state that sets the building code. Anyone know for sure?

        • Arlington, Northside

          THe fire code is written Nationally and Internationally. The state and the county each determine which parts will be enforced here. An example is grills on decks and balconies of multi-unit dwellings. The International Fire Code bans them. Arlington chooses to enforce that part of the code, at least a few years ago Fairfax did not.

      • Suburban Not Urban

        And you are missing the part where any new construction has built in fire protection systems – sprinklers etc

        • JohnB

          Lawn sprinklers save your grass. Fire sprinklers save your a$$!

  • BreakPause02

    “smaller firefighter recruiting class”

    Didn’t we just have an unusually large number of firefighters retire?

    • Arlington, Northside

      Great point! Could ARLNow investigate further?

    • They’ve already had several large recruiting classes go through training in advance of the retirements.

  • Thes

    I’m glad to hear that narrowing streets around Arlington to make them safer for pedestrians has not been accompanied by the feared increase in fire losses because of fire trucks getting stuck.

  • Costs

    So it costs more than $1,800 for every call…($49M / 26,700 calls)? Given the decline in fire incidents and figures showing that the Department sees twice as many Medical calls as fire calls – are there ways that the department could be rebalanced so that it responds to medical calls without sending full-crewed fire trucks?

  • JimPB

    Are smoke or heat triggered sprinkler systems required in new or remodeled living and./or commercial units in ARLCo? I understand that these systems can significantly reduce fires — and of course they have a very short response time, but that builders oppose having to install them.

    I also recall hearing that it’s not the fire itself that usually kills occupants but toxic smoke from home furnishings. The implication: Immediately leave a home or commercial building if a fire breaks out. Is there more specific guidance?

    • Arlington, Northside

      Required in multi-dwelling units. They are triggered by heat, not smoke. A smoke detector saves lives not property. A sprinkler can do both, if the heat triggers it. Sprinklers are not cheap and add a lot to building costs. A builder will have no problem installing them in a residential home, if the person paying to have the house built wants them and are willing to pay for them. The building code does require ALL dwellings to have them in stalled at time of build or renovation.

  • Truth Seeker

    A fire chief taking credit for fewer fires is kind of like the weather man taking credit for less snow. The Arlington Fire Department is an excellent department, but lets not rely on weak metrics to reflect that.

    According to the fire chief, they predict 5 major loss fires in the coming year. That statistic doesn’t mean anything. If it did, that would represent a 66% increase in losses over this year; who would find that acceptable?

    How about we focus on real measures of efficiency and capability, like:
    – Average time from 911 call to time at patient side, including the time it takes to get from the truck to the patient.
    – Cost per capita for the provision of fire and EMS services compared with other DC area departments.
    – Average cost to the patient for transport to the hospital compared with other jurisdictions
    – Number of times per year that the Arlington FD runs out of ambulances (I understand this is a very big number)
    – Amount of time it takes for an ambulance to be ready for the next call after taking someone to the hospital (I hear this is also a big number)

    The Arlington Fire Department is an incredible group of men and women and they do an excellent job. But management isn’t focused on improving services — at least not according to these metrics.

    When was the last time the Fire Department was independently audited to find new efficiencies and ways to improve service? 1994

    • zzzzz

      A weatherman can’t take credit for less severe weather, but meteorologists can take some credit for reduced impact of severe weather, like fewer casualties due to the public being warned in advance of a storm. Similarly, a fire department can take credit for things like fewer *large loss* fires.

      Based on this one article, I don’t see how you can conclude that they are not focused on improving services.

  • Prevent

    What the Chief failed to give credit to is his Fire Prevention Division who give’s advice on a daily basis to anybody who inquires…

    • He in fact gave specific credit to the department’s fire education efforts, it just did not explicitly say so in the article.

    • Arlington, Northside

      Luckly, fires have gone down inspite of a cut to the Fire Prevention Division a few years ago. I guess they have been able to do as much or more work even with fewer resources. Sign of past waste or sign of good luck?

  • Southside

    There were not less fires… Just less fires that did major damage… Translation, your Fire Department is doing it’s job well…. Nuff said…….


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