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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Public gets up close and personal at local fire stations

The Annandale fire station on Columbia Pike.

Local residents got a chance yesterday to visit local fire stations and learn how firefighters and emergency medical technicians keep the community safe.

Kids get to try out a fire hose.
Much of that work is done by volunteers who don’t get paid. “We consider the volunteers as professional as the career firefighters and EMTs. The only difference is they don’t get a paycheck. People do it because it’s their passion,” said Annandale Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) Chief Roger Waller at the Company 8 open house on Columbia Pike. The AVFD also operates Company 23 on Little River Turnpike.

So this is what the inside of an ambulance looks like.
Volunteers get the same training and can earn the same certifications as firefighters and EMTs employed by the county, Waller says. Volunteers don’t have to be on the front line, though;  many of them focus on administrative work, such as fundraising, public outreach, and managing the AVFD’s popular bingo games.

Residents collect safety brochures and other information at the open house.
The AVFD  owns the station, land, and most of the vehicles and equipment and is responsible for maintenance of the building. As a result, the AVFD relies heavily on fund raising to support its activities. The county now charges patients for hospital transport, but none of that revenue goes to the volunteer fire departments, Waller notes.

Lt. Bill Schaekel, a firefighter employed by the county, suits up and heads out to a fire during the open house. He has taken extensive training in driving a fire truck. Drivers are supposed to stop at lights and stop signs and are not permitted to go over 15 miles per hour above the speed limit, he says.
Waller urges the public to come to the fire station’s first all-you-can-eat crab legs and spiced shrimp feast, Oct. 25, 2-5 p.m., at the fire station’s John Fox Jr. Memorial Hall.

Katie Myers, a volunteer with the AVFD, plays the part of an accident victim.
The crab and shrimp fest is co-hosted by the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department, which also held an open house Oct. 10, along with the other fire stations in Fairfax County. The county owns just 12 of the 42 fire stations in Fairfax County; the rest are owned by volunteer fire departments.

Kits practice first aid skills.
The Annandale fire station has 55 active volunteers and 42 county employees, Waller says. There are three shifts for career firefighters, with 14 per shift.

AVFD Chief Roger Waller; Jason Pavelko, a volunteer EMT, and Shirley Binsky, the volunteer canteen coordinator for Fairfax County, at the Annandale station.
A volunteer has to put in 240 hours a year to stay active. Volunteers have to be at least 18, or 16 if their parents agree. They have to pass a background check, and if they want to work as a firefighter or EMT, they have to pass an annual physical.

The open house at the Bailey's Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department.
Most of the volunteers have regular jobs and work at the fire station on their free time. Waller, a former paramedic, has been AVFD chief for the past 20 years and has worked at the Arlington 911 call center for 21 years.

The Bailey's Crossroads station's brand-new tiller truck. The 100-foot long vehicle cost more than $1 million. A tiller man sits in the back perch and steers the rear wheels
“Some younger volunteers will go on and make a career out of it,” Waller says. Years ago it was hard to find enough volunteers. “Now demand is so high, we can’t keep up with the number of people who want to volunteer.”

The lounge at the Bailey's Crossroads station.
“This is a family,” Waller says. “People spend more time here than with their own families.”

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