Old Town fire engine to stay put, West End goes without

Old Town fire engine to stay put, West End goes without

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

When the Alexandria Fire Department’s newest station opens in Eisenhower Valley later this year, it will have everything it needs — except an engine and firefighters.

An agreement reached by city councilors last week will keep the engine formerly slated to move to the West End at its location at Station 204, which is near Powhatan Park. Instead, officials will move a medic unit from the east side to staff the Eisenhower Valley station.

Since City Manager Rashad Young’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal — which included the proposed move — was unveiled, Old Town residents have lobbied to keep their engine, fearing increased response times in the neighborhood. Weeks of protests, rallies and a social media campaign successfully persuaded city councilors to see it the way of the Powhatan station’s neighbors.

They will formally adopt the budget, with the medic unit relocation, at tonight’s meeting. The cost of buying and staffing an additional engine for the new station is about $2.2 million, per city budget documents.

Statistics provided by fire department officials show the stations servicing the area to be covered by Station 210 are two of the busiest in the city. Engine 208, located at 175 N. Paxton St., received the most service calls every year since 2008. Engine 207, based along the 3300 block of Duke St., is usually ranked between second and fourth in terms of call volume.

It routinely takes between eight and 11 minutes for first responders to reach an emergency in the area, which rank among the worst response times in the city.

Fire department spokesman Michael Gerber said that with the relocated medic unit, responses for medical emergencies — especially in the Eisenhower Valley — could improve markedly. But response times for fire-related incidents in the West End likely will remain lengthy.

“When the budget is adopted, we’ll take the direction that council gives us, and if it goes through with the engine remaining at Station 204, response times in the Eisenhower Valley will continue to be what they are now for fire suppression, a little longer than in other areas of the city,” Gerber said. “[But] we are always looking at where stations are located and apparatus and stuff like that.”

Don Buch, president of the Cameron Station Civic Association, said council’s actions feel like a political decision, not one based on safety.

“The thing that surprises me is that one would think, one would hope that there’s evidence of where equipment needs to be, and if someone determined that given all of the calls in the city and the distribution, the best allocation of resources is to have it at [Station] 210, it shouldn’t be a political discussion of, ‘We want the truck and you can’t have it,’” Buch said. “If a house burns down in the West End, it’s just as serious as the north end or whatever.”

City Councilor Del Pepper, who lives in the West End, said she supports the plan to keep Engine 204 at its home in Old Town.

“I think any time you take an engine from a station that has had the benefit of it for so long, it’s a hard choice, a hard move,” Pepper said. “They’ve had it and they’re counting on it, and we’re going to have to find another solution here for our new station.”

Asked about the prospect of having no firefighting apparatus at Station 210 when it opens, Pepper said: “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”