Arlington, VA

After months of debate on its fate, Arlington County has made the decision to permanently shutter Fire Station 7 in Fairlington.

County Manager Mark Schwartz made the call to close the station following recommendations from both the Arlington County Fire Department and the Arlington Department of Environmental Services, per a press release.

“This was not an easy decision, because we know the community has had a special relationship with Fire Station 7 — affectionately known as “The Little House” — and its personnel for more than half a century,” Schwartz said a statement.

According to the release, there would only be room for one emergency vehicle if the county were to renovate the station — which goes against the county’s latest fire station design standards for housing multiple vehicles.

Additionally, the renovated station would not have enough space to meet proper health and safety standards.

“Asking taxpayers to pay for rebuilding a station that doesn’t move us forward in meeting our community’s growing needs would not be fiscally responsible,” Schwartz said.

The station, located 3116 S. Abingdon Street in the middle of the mostly residential Fairlington neighborhood, shut down last October after fire personnel heard “creaking noises” in the station’s ceiling and it was deemed structurally unsafe. Its status was  “temporarily closed” until yesterday (Thursday).

During an audit meeting in August regarding the use of overtime in the fire department, County Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey noted that 60 percent of the station’s runs were to Alexandria and Fairfax, given its location in the county’s southwestern tip.

The county is still in the early stages of scouting for a site for a new fire station to serve Columbia Pike. Schwartz recently suggested that the eastern end of Columbia Pike would be a desirable location.

In lieu of Fire Station 7, county officials say the following stations will help serve the Fairlington area:

  • Fire Station 9: 1900 S. Walter Reed Drive, Arlington
  • Fire Station 203: 2801 Cameron Mills Road, Alexandria
  • Fire Station 206: 4609 Seminary Road, Alexandria
  • Fire Station 410: 3601 Firehouse Lane, Bailey’s Crossroads (Fairfax)

Arlington County is “developing a process to determine future use” of the Fire Station 7 site, the press release says. It will not be used for fire department purposes, an ACFD spokesman told ARLnow.

The full press release is below, after the jump.

Arlington County will permanently close Fire Station 7, located in the Fairlington neighborhood in south Arlington, due to structural safety concerns. Other nearby fire stations will continue to meet fire and emergency service needs in this area of the County. The County is also developing a process to determine future use of the site.

In October 2018, the County closed the station temporarily after fire and EMS personnel reported hearing “creaking noises” in the ceiling of their living area directly beneath the station’s apparatus bay.

Follow-up engineering and architectural studies found that returning the station to safe operation would require replacement of the concrete slab in the apparatus bay and supporting walls, which would trigger a large-scale renovation to bring the building to state code regarding ADA accessibility. This would also require acquisition of easements of adjoining properties to add an elevator. Initial estimates put the cost of renovations and additions at $2.5-3 million.

Even with expansions for increased accessibility, renovating the station on its current, space-constrained site would mean that it would still only be able to house one emergency vehicle. The County’s latest fire station design standards call for enough space to house multiple vehicles when needed to meet growing service demands. The renovated station would also lack the functional space needed to meet current health and safety standards for fire and EMS personnel.

County Manager Mark Schwartz made the final decision following recommendations from both the County’s Department of Environmental Services, which oversees design and construction of County facilities, and the Arlington County Fire Department.

“This was not an easy decision, because we know the community has had a special relationship with Fire Station 7 and its personnel for more than half a century,” Schwartz said. “However, asking taxpayers to pay for rebuilding a station that doesn’t move us forward in meeting our community’s growing needs would not be fiscally responsible.”

Senior County staff recently met with the Fairlington Citizens Association to discuss fire and emergency service delivery in Fairlington and the structural condition of the existing station. Staff also is developing a process for options to determine future uses of the site that will include engagement with the community.

Community to continue receiving a high level of service
“The Fire Department takes our responsibility to the Arlington community very seriously,” Fire Chief David Povlitz said. “We’re confident that Fire Station 9 and nearby stations in Alexandria and Fairfax County will continue to provide thorough fire and emergency services coverage for Fairlington.”

Staff from the Arlington County Fire Department and Department of Environmental Services recently met with community members to answer questions about the closure. View the presentation.

Meeting shifting service demands
As Arlington continues to grow and develop, so too are its fire and emergency medical services needs. The County will closely examine these changing demands to determine where fire stations are needed to continue providing the highest level of service possible to the County as a whole. One likely area is the east end of Columbia Pike, where service needs have been growing in recent years.

“Fire Station 5 in Aurora Hills, which serves Crystal City and Pentagon City, already has high demand for service, and we expect that to increase further with anticipated growth in that area,” Chief Povlitz said. “The County has been thinking about the need for more fire station coverage in that part of the County for several years.”

Background

Built in the 1940s, Fire Station 7 is the County’s only one-bay station, and the only station where the apparatus bay is located above a lower level. The weight of engines housed at the station has roughly doubled since the station was built, including an approximately 60-percent increase in weight since a 1983 renovation.

The County notified the community last fall about Fire Station 7’s temporary relocation, including meeting with neighbors to discuss the move and related concerns.

Photo (1) via Google Maps

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