“Being a ‘good man’ is something you do, not something you are,” according to Luvvi Ajayi.
We agree – and think that description applies to departing Fire Chief Corey Smedley, who announced November 30 that he will be leaving his post in mid-January.
Though Smedley’s tenure at the Alexandria Fire Department was relatively short – he arrived in 2015 after a long career in the Prince George’s County Fire Department – he served as head of Alexandria’s fire and rescue department during a tumultuous time. See our expanded story, “Fire Chief Corey Smedley reflects on retirement,” for a full look at the chief’s career.
Smedley encountered unexpected challenges in three areas during his time at APD, first as a deputy chief, then acting chief in mid-2019 and then chief beginning in January 2020.
The first dilemma has been emergency flooding, where drivers are trapped in their vehicles during flash flooding events. Flooding is being exacerbated by increasingly volatile weather, coupled with the city’s environmental destruction of formerly pristine wetlands and forests for development projects, along with an increasingly taxed storm drain infrastructure.
The second, utterly unexpected test came in the form of COVID-19, as fire fighting personnel are often the first on the scene when medical emergencies occur. Alexandria’s first responders, along with our doctors, nurses and hospital staff, were the heroes of the pandemic. Just two months into his tenure as fire chief, Smedley was confronted with the pandemic.
The third challenge is the most controversial: The deliberate narrowing of Alexandria’s streets by City Council in a quest for more bicycle lanes. When Council began deliberating whether to narrow a heavily traveled, and up-to-then safe, section of Seminary Road in early-to-mid 2019, various members of the AFD began voicing safety concerns, according to a resident-filed Freedom of Information Act request that was shared with the Times.
Then-Fire Chief Robert Dube suddenly announced his resignation as deliberations on the lane narrowing – on the main road leading to Alexandria Inova hospital – were taking place. Smedley was then named acting chief. The FOIA documents showed that around 25 pages of emails and other internal communications concerning the road narrowing that either included or pertained to Smedley were redacted.
We still believe those redactions were not justified, and that the public had and has a right to know what was on those pages. Regardless, the road narrowing took place in the fall of 2019 – and Smedley was promoted to full fire chief in January 2020.
The timing of Smedley’s resignation is interesting, coming just 36 hours after City Council unanimously voted to pass the Zoning for Housing initiative. While Smedley denies Council’s vote had anything to do with his departure, it’s also clear that more people and vehicles crammed onto the same spaces under ZFH is going to create new challenges for the AFD.
And the looming approval of Duke Street in Motion, which if passed will remove private vehicle lanes in parts of Alexandria’s most heavily traveled thoroughfare, will be a nightmare for emergency responders both during construction and after it’s implemented.
Maybe the timing of Smedley’s departure is purely a coincidence. But, given what he’s had to deal with in four-and-a-half years at the helm of AFD, no one could blame the fire chief for getting out before entirely preventable additional challenges land on his plate.
Corey Smedley is a good man, and we wish him well.