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Letter: First-Rate Responders in Second-Rate System

To the Editor:

When someone in Alexandria has an emergency and calls 911, they expect help to arrive quickly. In parts of Alexandria, help may not arrive for 15 or 20 minutes, however, when it may be too late to really matter.

While Alexandria has first-rate emergency responders, these responders are operating in a second-rate emergency response system. Many of our fire stations are very old and a challenge to use and maintain. Many of our fire engines, ladder trucks, and ambulances are of a vintage that replacement parts to fix them are hard to find. Fortunately, two new medic units were purchased last year, a new ladder truck is arriving this fall, and four new fire engines will be arriving early next, but more are needed.

The fire stations that we do have are not optimally located to serve all of our neighborhoods. Of the nine fire stations currently operating in Alexandria, only two are located west of Quaker Lane where 53 percent of us live. A tenth fire station is in the process of being built on west Eisenhower Avenue, but it will not be operational until later next year. There is no fire station west of I-395, where 20 percent of us live and few of the high-rise buildings have sprinklers. BRAC is also located there and now relies on the City for its emergency services. Construction of a fire station west of I-395 is 10 years hence according to the City’s Capitol Improvement Budget.

We do not have enough emergency responders to staff our fire stations. Only recently has the number of responders staffing our fire engines increased from three to four. These numbers matter, not only in terms of the difference they make in our overall safety and wellbeing, but they also affect everyone’s insurance rates.

While we are definitely moving in the right direction when it comes to upgrading our emergency response system, more remains to be done. As the citizen leader of the Beauregard Corridor Stakeholders Group, I made the acquisition of a fire station west of I-395 a top priority as we negotiated development rights with the owners of the land in the Beauregard Corridor. Consequently, the Beauregard Small Area Plan that will be considered by City Council on May 12 includes a developer-provided fire station west of I-395 that can be built within a year or two, if the Small Area Plan is approved.

Since providing emergency services is a core responsibility of local government, I promise to continue working to ensure that Alexandria’s emergency response services are first-rate.

Donna Fossum

Candidate for City Council