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Podcast: 9/11 First Responder Capt. Justin Tirelli

Justin Tirelli is currently an Arlington County Fire Department captain, but 17 years ago he was a rookie firefighter in the ACFD ranks.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Tirelli was responding to a fire call in Rosslyn when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the west side of the Pentagon. As his engine company was diverted to join the massive and heroic emergency response to the terror attack, Tirelli and his fellow firefighters focused on the task at hand — not realizing that it would change them and the community they served forever.

In this special episode of the 26 Square Miles podcast, we talked with Tirelli about what it was like to be a first responder at the Pentagon on that fateful day.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

Screenshots via @ReadyArlington

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ACFD Taps Northern Virginia’s First African-American Female Battalion Chief

Almost 24 years after she answered a radio ad seeking to recruit new firefighters, Tiffanye Wesley has been selected as Arlington’s southern battalion chief.

The county’s fire department tapped her for the post Sunday (Sept. 2), making her both Arlington and Northern Virginia’s first African-American female battalion chief.

There are two battalions in the Arlington Fire Department, divided between north and south, with each encompassing five stations. Wesley is chief of the southern battalion, coordinating operations not only between the five stations but with partner agencies across Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax.

“If there is a fire call, I’m in charge of that call,” said Wesley. “My job is to ensure everyone goes home safely.”

When Wesley first joined the Arlington Fire Department, she said she walked in the door with no expectations. She’d never known any firefighters or been into a fire house, and said she failed the physical ability tests twice, but she kept training and going back to try again.

Before being selected as battalion chief, Wesley was commander of the Crystal City station, Arlington’s largest and one of its busiest stations. Wesley stepped into the battalion chief role temporarily in 2016, which she said gave her an opportunity to get to know the other stations in the battalion.

“Every station is different,” said Wesley. “My goal is to go sit down with the officers and let them know up front what [my] expectations are and to give me theirs. I believe, as long as you set up right up front what you expect, it makes it easier. The problem comes in when you don’t know what your leader expects, then you tend to fall back and do whatever you want to do.”

Currently, Wesley says the department is also awaiting news of who will replace Fire Chief James Bonzano.

“Right now, the department is looking for a new fire chief,” said Wesley. “Everyone is in a holding pattern, we’re not sure who that person will be, whether they’re from inside the department or someone totally new, we will have to learn that person; their ideals and expectations.”

As Wesley settles into her new role as battalion chief, she says the outpouring of support from friends and followers of her active social media accounts has been overwhelming. Among the most interesting was a call from a fire chief in Nigeria congratulating her on the promotion.

“My promotion was not just for me, it’s for everyone who has watched me, who has been sitting back and passed over and doubted their own self, whose doubted it would ever happen,” said Wesley. “It’s all for those people. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up.”

Photo courtesy Arlington Fire Department

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Morning Notes

Vida Fitness Eyeing Second Arlington Gym — Vida Fitness has signed a letter of intent to open a gym and a “Sweatbox” boutique fitness studio in western Rosslyn, likely by the end of 2020. The company is expected to open its first Arlington location in Ballston in late 2019. [Washington Business Journal]

Beyer: If Impeachment Comes, It Must Be Bipartisan — “U.S. Rep. Don Beyer is no fan of Donald Trump. But he’s against moving forward with impeachment of the president unless it becomes a true bipartisan effort. ‘I don’t believe impeachment should ever be partisan – it should be done together,’ Beyer (D-8th) said at a campaign forum.” [InsideNova]

Warning About Swollen Streams — After an almost disastrous incident yesterday, the Arlington County Fire Department tweeted: “Remember, even a few inches of rushing water can be deceivingly powerful.” [Twitter]

Cemetery to Hold Expansion Dedication — “Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 6 will formally dedicate a 27-acre expansion that will provide more than 27,000 additional burial spaces… The expansion will provide for 10,882 in-ground burial spaces and 16,400 above-ground niche spaces for cremated remains.” [InsideNova]

Mongolian School Fights Fee Increase Proposal — “The Arlington school system’s proposal to vastly increase rental fees charged to the non-profit Mongolian School of the National Capital Area has outraged supporters of the school and led to predictions it might have to close if the increase isn’t reduced or rescinded… The proposal to jump the facility-use charge to $28,000 a year would be ‘devastating to our children and hard-working families,’ said Jane Batsukh, president of the Mongolian School Parents Association.” [InsideNova]

New Metrorail Cars Coming — Metro has kicked off the procurement process for its next-generation 8000 series rail cars. The transit agency plans to purchase hundreds of such cars and to put them into service as soon as 2024. [WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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BREAKING: Rescue Underway After Vehicle Runs Down Four Mile Run Embankment

Update at 3:10 p.m. — The victim has been successfully rescued from the vehicle. Tow crews will now start the process of removing the SUV from the embankment.

Earlier: Firefighters are currently working to rescue the driver of an SUV that ran down an embankment along Four Mile Run.

The incident happened just before 2 p.m. along 10th Street S., just south of Columbia Pike on the west bank of Four Mile Run. Initial reports suggest that one man is trapped in the vehicle but is in the process of being extricated by firefighters.

The victim’s injuries are said to be non-life-threatening.

The crash happened on a busy Sunday afternoon for the fire department. It is unrelated to the body recovery further down Four Mile Run.

Photos via Arlington County Fire Department and Google Maps

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BREAKING: Body Found in Four Mile Run

A body has been found in rain-swollen Four Mile Run near where it runs into the Potomac River.

First responders from Arlington, Alexandria and D.C. all responded to a report of a person in the water along the 3600 block of Potomac Avenue. The incident is currently being described as a recovery operation and investigation.

“ACPD is responding to investigate,” Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow.com early Sunday afternoon. “No details to report at this time.”

Photo courtesy Tatton Oliver

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Morning Notes

GMA Broadcasts Segment from Arlington — ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast a live segment from Arlington’s fire training academy near Shirlington yesterday. [Twitter]

Buyers’ Market in 2020? — “Home sellers likely will continue to hold more negotiating power than buyers for the next year and a half, according to the 2018 Q3 Zillow Home Price Expectations Survey. But it won’t last forever, experts say.” [InsideNova]

Local Leaders Decry Loss of Transportation Funding — “The leaders of Northern Virginia’s five most populous jurisdictions pledged Wednesday to push back on the General Assembly’s move this year to pull money from regional transportation projects to provide dedicated funding for the Metro system.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin

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UPDATED: Firefighters Extinguish Bluemont House Fire

Arlington firefighters extinguished a house fire in Bluemont this afternoon.

First responders received a call about the blaze in a home along the 5600 block of 7th Street N. around 3:40 p.m. today (Wednesday). The fire was concentrated in the kitchen, per scanner traffic.

No one was inside the home when the fire started, and there were no injuries as a result of the blaze, a fire department spokesman said. However, the department did dispatch an extra medic unit to the scene, due to the heat, the spokesman said.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Metro Trains Misrouted in Arlington — “It’s been a rough few days for Metro and its customers. Riders on a Springfield-bound Blue Line train ended up at the Court House station on the Orange and Silver lines on Tuesday morning after the train took the wrong route. It wasn’t the first time. On Monday, a Silver Line train ended up at the Arlington Cemetery station on the Blue Line.” [Washington Post, NBC Washington]

Another Heat Advisory — Arlington is again under a heat advisory today, from noon to 8 p.m. “The heat and humidity may cause heat stress during outdoor exertion or extended exposure,” forecasters warn. [Weather.gov]

Remembering 9/11 — Firefighters “started preparing for this year’s remembrance of September 11th by putting up flags on the I-66 overpasses and the tower at the Fire Training Academy.” [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Rob Pegoraro

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Arlington Fire Chief Steps Down, As Search for Replacement Continues

Arlington’s fire chief has officially stepped away from his post, leaving the department under interim leadership as a search for a permanent replacement continues.

Chief James Bonzano’s last day on the job was this past Friday (Aug. 24), fire department spokesman Ben O’Bryant told ARLnow. The county’s been searching for a new chief since early May, when Bonzano decided to bring his 34-year career to a close. He served as county fire chief for about three years in all.

O’Bryant said that Assistant Chief Joseph Reshetar will step in as acting chief while the county’s search continues. Reshetar has served in that same role before, back in 2015 when then-Fire Chief James Schwartz was appointed deputy county manager, so O’Bryant expects that “it will be a smooth transition between now and when the new chief starts.”

He added that the county’s human resources team is still interviewing candidates for the permanent post, with the ultimate goal of having a new chief leading the department “before November.”

A job listing on the county’s careers website remains active, though it notes the county will give preference to candidates who applied by June 4. It lists the annual salary range for the post as between $117,145.60 and $224,806.40.

File photo

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Woman Falls Off Don Tito Rooftop, Suffers Minor Injuries

A woman fell off the roof of Don Tito in Clarendon Thursday night (Aug. 16), suffering minor injuries.

Arlington County Police were called to the restaurant, located at 3165 Wilson Blvd, around 11:30 p.m. last night, according to spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

Fire department spokesman Ben O’Bryant says the woman “fell from one level on the roof to another level on the roof,” a distance of about 20 feet in total.

O’Bryant added she “only had minor injuries and was in good condition when care was transferred to hospital staff.”

File photo

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JUST IN: Firefighters Extinguish Blaze in Ballston Townhome

Arlington firefighters extinguished a fire at a Ballston townhome this afternoon (Friday).

First responders were called to the 600 block of N. Oxford Street, near Mosaic Park, for a blaze around 3:15 p.m.

The fire was concentrated in the basement, and extinguished without incident. No injuries resulted from the fire.

The fire marshal is still investigating the exact cause of the blaze, but scanner traffic suggests it started due to a washer or dryer in the basement.

Photo via @ArlingtonVaFD

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Police, Firefighters to Mark ‘National Night Out’ Tonight

Arlington County’s police and fire departments will commemorate National Night Out by holding neighborhood visits at events across the county from 5-9 p.m. tonight (Aug. 7).

In its 35th year, National Night Out strives to build relationships between police and the communities they serve, in part to help increase crime prevention awareness.

The county invites residents to “lock their doors, turn on outside lights and spend an evening outside with neighbors, police officers, firefighters and elected officials.”

Events will be held at the following locations:

  • Arlington Forest (200 block of N. Galveston Street) at 7:45 p.m.
  • Cathcart Springs (4600 block of 4th Road N.) at 6:30 p.m.
  • Nauck Town Square (24th Road S. and S. Shirlington Road) from 5-7 p.m.
  • Park Glen (824 S. Arlington Mill Drive, between buildings 812-816) at 6:30 p.m.
  • The Observation Deck at CEB Tower (1800 N. Lynn Street) from 5-9 p.m.

Photo via Arlington County

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ACFD’s ‘Operation FirePaws’ Supply Drive Kicks Off Tomorrow

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington cares for over 2,000 animals each year, and uses plenty of supplies in the process.

To support AWLA, the Arlington County Fire Department will aim to accumulate 650 pounds of pet supplies in its third annualOperation FirePaws” drive, which runs from tomorrow (Aug. 1) through Aug. 31.

Community members can drop off non-perishable items from AWLA’s wishlist between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to donation bins located at the front entrance of every Arlington County fire station.

AWLA asks that donations not include homemade treats, Milk Bones or other boxed hard treats. Desired donation items include canned food, collars and toys.

ACFD invites donors to pick up a pet alert decal when they make their donation. A full list of fire stations is available here.

Photo via ACFD

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BREAKING: Firefighters Extinguish Arlington Ridge House Fire

Arlington firefighters extinguished a house fire in Arlington Ridge this afternoon (Friday).

First responders were called to a home along the 1100 block of 21st Street S. over reports of a structure fire around 4 p.m.

The blaze was concentrated on the rear deck of the house, and the homeowner managed to make it out of the building without injury.

Photo via Google Maps

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ACFD Aims to Find Next Generation of Female Firefighters with ‘Camp Heat’

Over the past four days (July 19-22), Arlington County Fire Department’s Camp Heat provided girls ages 15-18 with a free-of-charge inside look at a career in the fire service.

Now in its fifth year, the program has hosted more than 80 campers. Participants this year came from Northern Virginia, Maryland and as far as Ohio to experience fire and emergency medical services simulations, physical training and team-building activities.

“A lot of the females [at ACFD] ended up doing this after going to school or doing other careers,” Capt. Sarah Marchegiani said. “They never really thought about it as a career just because socially, it’s not really something that we’re exposed to as little girls.”

Erin Schartiger, a junior mentor for Camp Heat, attended the program two summers ago. Now, she is a certified firefighter in her home city of Sterling.

Camp Heat “was what pushed me [to be] like, ‘oh yeah, this is definitely something I want to try, something I want to do,'” Schartiger said.

Across the country in 2016, about four percent of career firefighters were women, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In Arlington, that number stands around 10 percent.

So far, at least two former campers have applied in ACFD’s current hiring cycle. Though Marchegiani said she would love for all of the campers to become Arlington County firefighters, “that’s obviously not realistic.”

“In general, I hope they come out with a mindset that they can accomplish whatever they want if they work hard, they dream big and put in the effort and time,” Marchegiani said. “It’s really just all about empowering them to show them that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to.”

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