Opinion Your Views — 01 May 2014
Fire protection should be top notch regardless of the neighborhood

By Mary Jane Kramer 
and Tom Soapes, Presidents, NorthEast Citizens’ Association and North Old Town Independent Citizens Association

To the editor:

We, the presidents of the NorthEast Citizens’ Association and the North Old Town Independent Citizens Association, are writing to express the deep concern of many of our members over the proposal to remove Engine 204 from Station 204.

City manager Rashad Young has proposed that, rather than retain firefighter positions needed to staff Station 210 in the fiscal 2015 budget, personnel from 204 will be transferred to man 210. Engine 204 would otherwise not need to be moved. In recent years, the city bought a full fleet of fire apparatus.

Budget documents reveal that this action will increase response times on the city’s east side. The plan to move the engine and its crew can also be expected to cause a ripple effect in the surrounding neighborhoods, since the department’s coverage will be thinner.

In fire and other emergency situations, seconds count. Therefore, many residents of the area served by Engine 204 realistically fear a significant loss in protection if this proposal is adopted.

They are also dismayed to learn that the removal of Engine 204 is to occur before the city does a comprehensive study of the deployment of equipment and personnel in relation to call volume, call types and other factors. The city manager said this study would not be completed until the 2016 fiscal year, after Engine 204 is moved.

What also is surprising is that this proposal comes at a time when the north and northeast parts of Alexandria are experiencing a substantial increase in residential and commercial development.

Combining this increase in residents and structures with an existing stock of older structures that lack modern fire suppression systems — and are thus more apt to suffer rapid and disastrous destruction because of fire — makes this proposal even more puzzling.

Finally, we have recently discovered that the area in which Engine 204 is located is plagued by substandard water pressure, significantly lower than on the west end, making the immediate availability of the pumping power of multiple fire engines all the more critical here.

We understand the financial problems facing the city and appreciate the difficulty of balancing the budget. However, public safety is the highest priority of governments at all levels. Every area of Alexandria deserves fire and EMS protection that meets or exceeds national standards.

We urge city councilors to revise this budget so that all Alexandrians can feel secure that their lives and property are protected. This can occur only when all sectors of the city receive fire protection of the highest standard.

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