Editorial: Half a fire station is not enough

Editorial: Half a fire station is not enough

(Photo/Erich Wagner)

A common feature of our culture is to play amateur psychologist and analyze whether people view the world with a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” outlook. If your glass is half full, you’ve got some of what you want, and that’s better than nothing. We tend to label such people as optimists. If your glass is half empty, you are focused more on what you lack than on what you have. Such people are rarely content.

When it comes to the city budget, most of us fall in the glass half empty category. We want all of our own priorities fully funded and are not satisfied with half measures.

The most glaring example of a half measure in this year’s city budget is Fire Station 210, which was supposed to officially open with much fanfare last weekend. But the ribbon-cutting was abruptly cancelled when city officials, led by City Manager Mark Jinks, realized West Enders decidedly view the new station as a glass half empty situation.

Controversy has surrounded this station since its planning stages.

There is near unanimous agreement the station is needed — the West End is growing rapidly and the new station is close to the Norfolk Southern ethanol operation near Cameron Station. The problem is that not enough money was set aside to build the station, buy both a medic truck and fire truck, and hire enough staff to operate both vehicles.

The city’s first attempt at a half measure was to propose building the station and buying the equipment, but move firefighters from Station 204 in North Old Town. This would have worsened response times in the midst of Alexandria’s tourist hub. Nearby residents raised a ruckus and the idea to move firefighters out of Old Town was shelved.

But the money wasn’t in the budget to fully staff the new station this year. So the station opened this month without fanfare — and without firefighters. Obviously, this situation is not tenable in the long-term.

The glass half full perspective is that the station is being brought on-line in stages, and having an operational medic unit near the Van Dorn Metro station is decidedly better than nothing at all. According to city spokeswoman Andrea Blackford, there are more emergency calls for medical assistance than for fire suppression in any community. The fire equipment is there and firefighters will be added at some point in the next 18 months or so.

But given the sense of many in the West End that they are consistently treated as second-class citizens, city officials should have known residents would see this as a glass half empty. There’s a perception, probably warranted, that greater priority is given to funding city services in the Old Town, Rosemont and Del Ray sections of Alexandria.

Someone on the city’s staff or on city council should have realized that ensuring there are firefighters at the new station must be a priority in the year since the last debate over staffing. And it should not have taken an ill-conceived ribbon-cutting ceremony to bring the issue back to the forefront. That’s just bad governance.

City leaders should prioritize fully staffing Station 210 as soon as possible.