For nearly as long as there’s been a Tysons, there’s been a Fire and Rescue Station 29 watching over it.
On Sunday (Sept. 23) past and present members of the Station 29 crew met to share stories and celebrate the station’s 40th anniversary.
Newly-appointed fire chief John Butler also attended to greet members of the fire and rescue crew.
Those that work at Fire Station 29 say the station is unique in the types of challenges it faces. Other stations cover more rural parts of Fairfax County. The Reston and Bailey’s Crossroads both have to contend with high rises. But according to Captain Michael Whetsell, Commander of Fire Station 29, only the Tysons station has to contend with every type of emergency on the books.
“Tysons is a unique location,” said Whetsell. “You have a mixture of all kinds here. We have high rises and residential. You can go left and we have non-hydrant areas. We have the Metro coming through. Every operations manual operates out of Station 29.”
Despite the dramatic increase in density and population in Tysons, Fire Station 29 has not grown except for a county-wide increase from three to four personnel per fire engine or ladder truck. Whetsell says there are ten personnel total on call at the station at any given time.
The main engine receives between 10-15 calls per day, and Whetsell said the medic unit receives about the same. The fire truck responds to roughly ten calls each day.
Whetsell said most of the calls that come in are medical emergencies, accidents or fire alarms. The crew of Station 29 is also regularly called out to Route 7, the Beltway, and the Dulles Toll Road to deal with car accidents.
It’s a difficult job, and Whetsell said the continued development is only making it harder.
“It’s a very busy station,” said Whetsell. “Every day it gets harder and harder due to traffic increases. There’s increased people coming in to work and live, and now the new construction is commercial and residential high rises.”
Whetsell said high rises can be a particularly challenging call for a fire department. With the rapid pace of construction, the department has had to make an increasing amount of high angle rescues.
Earlier this month, Fire Station 29 made a vertical rescue using a construction crane to lower a victim from the sixth floor of a construction site.
There is some relief in sight for Fire Station 29. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue is planning on constructing a new station, Tysons East Fire and Rescue Station 44, on Old Meadow Lane. The station will have 23 personnel with additional staffing planned as part of a five-year safety plan.
Delivery of the station is scheduled for Dec. 31, 2020, but as of the fiscal year 2019 Fairfax County government’s Capital Improvement Plan funding for the project is still to be determined.
Whetsell said the new fire station would cover calls in the eastern section of Tysons, also covering Route 123 and the Beltway.
But for all of the challenges, Whetsell says Fire Station 29 is home for him. He has worked at the station for nine years total. Whetsell started as a rookie at the station, then came back as a truck lieutenant, and finally came back as a captain.
While the usual job of the fire crew is responding to emergencies, Whetsell said he also loves getting a chance to meet with members of the public at events.
“We like getting out to the public,” said Whetsell. “So if anyone has an event to invite us to, get in touch and we’d love to show the fire trucks. We do a lot of birthdays. Just seeing the smiles of kids when we show up… the smiles are priceless.”