After nine years as head of Alexandria's Fire Department and a firefighting career that began in 1960, Chief Thomas M. Hawkins, Jr., has announced his plans to retire by the end of November.
"We have a whole set of medical standards that anyone affiliated with the department has to meet to remain active. And, although I am not called upon to respond to fires on a regular basis it is still incumbent upon me to meet those standards so that I can respond if necessary," Hawkins explained.
"In May I had to have two heart stints put in. About two weeks after the operation one of them closed and caused a mild heart attack on one side. It has been fixed. But, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to continue and perhaps not be able to respond in a given situation," he said.
Prior to becoming Alexandria's chief in June 1993, Hawkins served as the Arlington County Fire Chief for 15 years. "I started as a volunteer firefighter in Arlington in 1960," Hawkins said.
EARLIER IN HIS CAREER he was a program manager at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD., where he directed the Academy's executive development programs. He has also served as an associate professor of fire services at the Northern Virginia Community College and is a past president of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association.
A native of Arlington, Hawkins now plans "to move out a little further, more toward Warrenton," he confided. "I hope to do more fishing and golfing and less going to fires," he said. "But, I plan to stay involved with fire fighting activities to some degree. Maybe with the training and working with departments that are looking for chiefs."
Hawkins has also been actively involved with the linkage between U.S. fire departments and those in Great Britain. Last year Alexandria hosted the group's meeting. "My wife and I have talked about going to England this coming spring for their meeting," he said.
In accepting Hawkins' resignation, City Manager Philip Sunderland recognized, "Tom has done an outstanding job of leading the Alexandria Fire Department. He has been responsible for many major accomplishments. The community is particularly indebted to him for his leadership during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He will be sorely missed and very difficult to replace."
ACCORDING TO THE city manager's office that replacement will involve a nationwide search which will include qualified applicants from within the department. In the interim an acting chief will be named, according to Barbara Gordon city public information officer.
"I will give Phil my input as to the strengths and weaknesses of the department but I don't intend to be involved in the search process," Hawkins clarified. "I don't know who he will pick as the interim chief."
Hawkins and his wife Sherry, have two grown children, a daughter living in Charlotte, NC, and a son in Arlington. "Our daugther just told us that she and her husband are moving to Richmond in the near future. It was one of the highlights of the year since that will also bring our new grandson so much closer," he enthused.
Alexandria's fire chief manages a department with a $25 million budget, including the funding for eight fire stations and five advanced life support units providing round-the-clock services. In addition to fire and emergency services, the chief is responsible for the city's emergency preparedness program and the code enforcement bureau.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS during Hawkins tenure as chief include:
* Formation of the Northern Virginia Hazardous Materials Response Team in 1994. It combined personnel and resources from the Alexandria and Arlington departments Haz Mat teams.
* Initiation of the Waterfront Operations Team in 1997 to assist in the protection of citizens and mariners who use the various waterways in and adjacent to the City. It was later renamed the Marine Operations Team.
* Creation of Bike Medic Operations in 1997 to provide better access to persons in large crowd situations and reduce the time necessary to treat stricken patients.
* Launched the Alexandria Fire Department Citizens Academy in 2001. It gives residents the opportunity to learn more about the department's mission and to participate in practical training.
* Completion of the fire training facility renovation at the Lee Center in 1996 and the completion of the renovations to Fire Station 204 in 2001. The latter was recognized nationally for its design and functionality.
* Delivery in May 2002, of a new, 110-foot straight ladder truck housed at station 204.
* Creation of the Be Safe Coalition which is committed to teaching safety to at-risk populations throughout the city.
* Establishment of the Leadership Education and Development Program for all departmental personnel.