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Long History of Hall’s Hill Fire Station in Jeopardy, Residents Say

by Heather Mongilio August 7, 2015 at 3:45 pm 1,831 0

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) The Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department was no stranger to challenges.

The first All-African American volunteer fire department in Arlington faced segregation and limited equipment for almost 40 years, according to a history of Fire Station 8 by Arlington Public Library.

The chronological history of the station was published in the middle of a debate between local residents and county government over its proposal to relocate the station farther north to Old Dominion Drive, by Marymount University.

“My neighbors look at that fire station as the heart, the hub, the star on the tree, whatever you want to say,” community member Jim Derrig said at a July 30 meeting. “And what we’re trying to say is you can’t replace the heart with a pacemaker or a bandaid. You have to replace a heart with a heart.”

The county says relocation is necessary for the Arlington County Fire Department to meet their response time goal of four to six minutes countywide.

“We are focused on life saving. That is our mission,” former Arlington County Fire Chief Jim Schwartz said in a county-produced video.

While this would not be the first time the fire station moved, — the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department was previously housed in smaller fire stations on Lee Highway and N. Culpepper Street in the 1930s — relocation would mean that it would no longer be in the Hall’s Hill community.

Hall’s Hill is a historically African-American community, once the home of freed slaves and separated from the rest of the county by a fence. In 1918, the members of the community formed the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department with one 60-gallon chemical tank that six men would have to pull along muddy and unpaved roads, according to the library.

When Arlington County was formally established two years later, the county excluded the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department from the Arlington County Fireman’s Association and did not give the department monthly pay for professional firefighters.

The VFD, which played a central part in the community, slowly built up its fleet of fire trucks and built a station first on Lee Highway in 1927 and then 2209 N. Culpepper Street in 1934. The 1934 fire house also had a basement for a community center.

After the fire department was integrated, it moved to its current home at 4845 Lee Highway and officially opened on June 17, 1963 with 17 paid firefighters. The Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department owned the deed to one of the pieces of land that went into the new station, while the county owned the others.

Now the County is looking to move the fire station to a new home outside of the Hall’s Hill neighborhood in order to decrease the response times to North Arlington homes, and the community is not happy.

“We don’t need to move this station,” one resident said at the July 30 meeting. “We need to build another one and that decreases our response time.”

Community members have shown up to County Board meetings and community meetings to express their displeasure with the plans. At the last community meeting, residents appeared frustrated with the process, and said measures to mark the history of the station after it moves are insufficient.

“I’m incensed as my neighbors are that the County is going to make sure we get a nice plaque to remember our fire station. Oh, that’s fantastic,” Derrig said.

Independent County Board candidate Michael McMenamin has also joined in with the community and berated county leavers for supposedly not listening to its residents.

“The Democratic controlled County Board is not listening to my Arlington neighbors who have been ignored in deciding the future of Fire Station No. 8. They should be answering the questions instead of charging forward to spend money on projects that have not been justified,” McMenamin said in a press release.

The final community meeting will is currently being rescheduled, according to Arlington County spokeswoman Jessica Baxter. Once a meeting place has been determined, the county will announce the meeting’s date. At the meeting, county staff will formulate a recommendation for the County Board.

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