ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A new fire station opened last week with a crew of paramedics, their truck, a fire engine and no firefighters — and it could take as long as five years before they arrive.
The Washington Post reported that the decision to leave the station short-staffed has upset residents, who point to the need for better fire coverage in the area.
More than 250 people have signed an online petition calling for a full firefighting crew. Residents in that area experience the longest response time in the city — about 10 minutes on average.
"How can we build a $15 million fire station in the most under-served part of the city and then supposedly have no funds to staff or equip it?" civic activist Don Buch wrote on the petition. "Can you imagine Jefferson Houston [School] opening and the community being told there is no money to hire/pay teachers? Or we can’t afford any books for a new library?"
The city’s original plan was to transfer a crew to the station, but another town’s residents’ protested and the city council backed down, according to the report.
Budget officials estimated the cost of hiring, training and staffing a crew to be $866,000 for fiscal year 2016, with costs increasing each year, according to the report.
Fire Chief Robert Dubé said that if he can get the money, he can hire, train and position a crew of firefighters at the new station by December 2016. The fire engine at the station is being used for training and as a backup engine for other stations.
"This is not over yet," said Redella S. "Del" Pepper, the longest-serving council member and an avid defender of the city’s west end. "It’s an embarrassment to be opening a fire station without firefighters there. We’re going to have to find a way to fund it that won’t break the budget."
Acting City Administrator Mark Jinks suggested a partnership with Arlington (Va.) County to hold joint recruitment and training classes, which would accelerate hiring, according to the report.
If the city does not shift a crew or hire and train a new one, it is likely that the new station will not be staffed with firefighters for five years, Dubé said.
Proposed budget changes will get their first vote before the council on April 28, with the final budget vote set for May 7.