Alexandria firefighters plead for more pay and hires

The Alexandria firefighters union sent a searing open letter to the Virginia city’s leaders pleading with them to fully fund the department and hire more workers.

The union accuses the city manager, mayor and council members of “prolonged mismanagement and underfunding of the fire department.”

“[They] do not properly support our emergency personnel, but that they are actively deciding to provide diminished emergency services at the risk of potential harm to the citizens, businesses and visitors of Alexandria,” union leaders wrote in the letter.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, the city said, “The City recognizes that the stressed labor market has contributed to Alexandria Fire Department staffing challenges. As a result, the City has instituted, like some of its neighbors, dynamic staffing which establishes shift staffing based on firefighter and medic availability.

This has meant transferring firefighters from desk jobs to fire stations, utilizing overtime, better aligning basic and advanced medical services with the type of call received, and planning for a fall 2021 recruit school and a recruit school in the first quarter of 2022 which should result in approximately 60 persons being hired to fill existing and likely future vacancies.”

Alexandria firefighters say they provided front-line support during the pandemic, and now they’re buckling under the workload, with staffing shortages and forced overtime.

“It’s a shame that, for a city that we’re willing to put our lives on the line for, they’re not even willing to provide us with the necessary tools,” Local 2141 IAFF President Josh Turner said in a statement. “It puts our medics, firefighters and civilians all at much higher risk.”

The firefighters said they have three specific complaints.

First, the city lacks medics on all emergency response vehicles, the letter outlined.

Another concern: specialty-trained firefighters, such as those prepared to do water rescues and vehicle extrications, have been disbanded, the union claims.

And, firefighters are concerned that a worker shortage will lead to the closure of a fire station, adding on more work.

The union is asking the city to hire 70 more firefighters and boost pay and benefits so firefighters won’t leave to work at higher-paying cities.

It has also launched a public sign-on letter, asking Alexandria residents to show support for funding the department.

“It’s absurd that Alexandria can underfund such a basic local service,” union organizer Jeremy McClayton said in a news release. “As someone who is not a firefighter, but just a normal constituent, it’s baffling.”

Gigi Barnett

Gigi Barnett is an anchor at WTOP. She has worked in the media for more than 20 years. Before joining WTOP, she was an anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and a staff reporter at The Miami Herald. She’s a Navy wife and mom of three.

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