Alexandria Firefighters Warn of Staff Shortages

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The front line is thinning out in Alexandria: The city's firefighters are saying that the fire department's low staffing levels are depriving the community of vital services.

A captain in the city's fire department, Michael Faber, is worried for his community because staffing levels are so low. He says the fire department is scaling back some of the emergency services it provides and is relying on neighboring jurisdictions to pick up the slack.

"We don't like having to tell people that a particular service won't be available.  That's one of the worst case scenarios and we're in it," Faber said.

It came to a head during a fire in Crystal City earlier this month, when Arlington's dispatcher rang out for help from Alexandria.

The dispatcher called, "Engine 105, engine 301, engine 209, engine 151, rescue 209, medic 105."

Engine 209 and Rescue 209 pull from the same station, but Alexandria didn't have the staff for both.

The firefighters' union says it put first responders at risk that night, and while the city has new recruits on the way, the union says low pay is the larger problem.

"It's like trying to fill up your bathtub without having the plug in the drain first. We're losing more people because they're getting paid more in different jurisdictions where they live closer to home," said Jeremy McClayton of the Alexandria firefighters union.

The union wants a 10% pay increase to keep firefighters like Faber in the department.

City Manager Mark Jinks says a pay increase is coming.

"It's too early to say what that increase will be, but it's a matter of what it'll be; not if it'll be," Jinks said.

Meanwhile, Faber says he and the others are left digging out of an avalanche of overtime hours, sometimes piled on them right at the end of their shift.

"My kids have a fair amount of anxiety over whether I'm gonna come home because there will be relief or there won't be in the morning," Faber said.

There's food on his family's table, but he never knows if he'll be home to eat it with them.

The city has dedicated firefighters, but not enough to provide all the services Faber says the community deserves.

Jinks, the city manager, said staffing levels are hurting right now because of COVID-19. Some first responders have tested positive, while others are calling out to care for children who are at home because of the virus, he said.

Jinks expects the next couple of months to be rough for both fire and police staffing.

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