To the sustained applause of family and friends, 15 new firefighter-medics graduated from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Academy last Friday night. Five of the new recruits are assigned to fire stations in Mason District, which are among the busiest in the county. The recruits began their training last October, and successfully completed a rigorous course of physical and academic activities that resulted in an average score of 92 percent for the class as a whole.
Willie Shelton, Jr., executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, was the commencement speaker. The Virginia Department of Fire Programs tracks statistics for all Virginia fire departments, and provides funding, training, technical and operational assistance, as well as public fire and life safety education information. Mr. Shelton pointed out that, last year, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue received 81,200 incident calls, or more than 222 calls per day. 58,247 of those calls were for EMS; 2,035 were fire responses; and 2,272 were hazmat calls. False alarm calls, an ongoing problem for which the county implemented a fee to cover the costs incurred for false alarms responses, totaled 8188. Several thousand additional calls were for general non-emergency service. Mr. Shelton also noted the need for local governments to look at risk initiatives to protect the lives and safety of fire personnel. For instance, is it worth the risk to send firefighters into a burning vacant and derelict structure? The safer approach might be to allow the structure to burn, maintain a safe perimeter and control the incident, without putting lives in the balance. Mr. Shelton also appealed for more life safety education for children, who should practice the Stop,Drop, and Roll fire exercise as well as EDITH (Exit Drill in the Home). More life safety education information is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fr/educate.
Mr. Shelton also announced that Captain I Chester Waters, Jr., a Basic Training Officer at the Academy, will receive the 2010 Governor’s Fire Service Award for Excellence in Virginia’s Fire Services at a Virginia Beach ceremony on February 26. Congratulations, Captain Waters!
While on the subject of public safety and emergency services, a constituent emailed me with a plea for drivers to pay attention and avoid becoming a statistic. As related to me, on Sunday morning, an oncoming motorist bent over to retrieve a cell phone that had dropped to the floorboard of his SUV. In a split second, his vehicle crossed the center yellow line on Annandale Road near Roundtree Park, endangering the lives of other drivers, their passengers, and any cyclists or pedestrians who happened to be nearby. My constituent asked if there is any way to mandate “continuing education” for drivers. Sadly, there is not, but there are courses offered for mature drivers by private groups, such as AAA and AARP for a fee. In the past two years, my office hosted the “mature drivers” course regulated by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, and sponsored by the National Safety Council. This program was taught by the Fairfax County Police. The National Safety Council dropped the program, so the Fairfax County Police are asking the DMV to approve them as a vendor to continue this free and valuable program.
When you get behind the wheel, you are piloting a ton or two of carefully crafted machinery that operates only as well as its driver’s skills. Holding a cell phone, eating, changing the selection on the radio or the CD player take away from attention to the road, which should be the primary focus of the driver. Mandatory continuing education for millions of Virginia drivers probably is unrealistic, but giving full time and attention to driving is not. Let’s pay attention out there!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org