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Votes

Letter: Say Thanks in the Budget

Scott Gordon wrote a very moving tribute to our Alexandria First Responders in his Feb. 16 letter entitled "Say Thanks." He's right; the spirit of his letter and his recommendation to just say thanks are both spot on.

A practical way we can also thank these brave men and women is, in this budget season, to demand that our elected and appointed officials do more to ensure we provide them the very best equipment, and plenty of it, to do their jobs.

You see, I live across from the Alexandria Fire Department Headquarters and you notice things when you live across from a fire station. It's become fairly routine to see fire engines from neighboring jurisdictions parked in front; yesterday the truck out front had Maryland plates. That's right, we undoubtedly had to go to little old Tacoma Park, Md., to borrow a working fire truck. On other occasions, at least two in recent memory, I've watched as either the Fairfax County Fire Department or the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority Fire Department responded to calls in our city.

While we appreciate the assistance of our neighbors in time of need; we should all be very uncomfortable with the fact that our Alexandria fire fighters' "back up" has to drive from a county or even a state away.

Our fire fighters deserve better than that. I would argue, in the spirit of Scott's letter, that they not only deserve better; indeed they deserve the very best.

Your paper covered our aging fire truck fleet on April 7, 2011, in "Putting the Alarm on an Aging Fire Engine Fleet." In your report we learned "on a good day, [Fire Chief Adam Thiel] has seven working engines and a sole serviceable ladder truck to cover the city." His estimate is that eight engines and three ladders are what's required to cover the 19,000 calls the Alexandria Fire Department receives each year. We also learned the average age of our fleet was 10 years old; the newest truck was seven years old. Most fire engines are only serviceable for 12 to 15 years.

So when I read Mayor Euille's sorry reply to your article last year (our fire engine fleet aged not overnight, mind you, but on his watch), and when I read this year that the Council's budget deliberations turned to talk of cupcakes rather than issues that should take priority, I was left to wonder, "who's running this place?" And then I remembered we're Alexandria, where special interests always take priority over the fundamentals.

I'm not a budget maestro but it seems to me that the additional $18.7 million Rashad Young has asked to add to the City's coffers could solve our fire truck fleet problems in one year. Jim Hartmann added $3.4 million last year; but I'm not sure if it actually made it in the final budget. If it did, that's an OK first step. This year, appropriating the remaining amount needed to bring the entire fleet up to date would meet the City's number one responsibility to safeguard lives and property, would do right by our brave fire fighters, would fulfill an immediate requirement as stated by the Chief himself, and would be the best $18.7 million this City would spend in probably a century.

And in doing so, the City Manager and the City Council could finally, with good reason, take the same amount of pride in their budget that our fire fighters take in their station and their engines. You see you notice things when you live across from a fire station. When they're not out there protecting you and me, they're out front ensuring their "house" is in order and their trucks are clean and ready-to-go. Ask your neighbors, the fire fighters, they'll tell you — this is done not only be always ready, but also out of sense of pride.

So even when they're not immediately responding to a call, they've always got our back. Mayor Bill, Rashad, City Councilmen, it's long overdue we have theirs.

George G. Demetriades, Jr.

Alexandria