When Fire Chief David Povlitz took the helm of the Arlington County Fire Department earlier this month, he brought with him more than 24 years of experience in fire, rescue and emergency medical services.
His career brought him from a firefighter/emergency medical technician in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Fire Department ― where he retired as a division chief ― to the assistant chief of administration and process management in the Alexandria Fire Department.
Chief Povlitz sat down to reflect on his first weeks on the job and share his vision for the future of the Arlington County Fire Department.
Q: What drew you to a career in public safety?
A: I’ve always had a sense of trying to help. It was from my family and my upbringing; it was a sense of community. I have some very formative memories as a child of watching my parents, watching my family―if someone had rough times or needed help, everyone would rally around that person and rally around that cause. That planted a seed that has been with me for a long, long time.
I got a taste of [public safety] working a part-time job in college with hazardous materials response. I worked the superfund sites in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and a lot of my coworkers were involved in the volunteer fire service. So, I got involved as a volunteer firefighter, and I knew then that that was my career path.
Q: What made Arlington the right fit for you (and vice versa) at this point in your career?
A: What drew me into [the DC] area was the regional approach. A lot of us encircling the National Capital Region, the Northern Virginia Region, we viewed it as the model. So when the opportunity came to move closer to the region, I jumped. I was working in Alexandria, and I was an admirer from the south. I was able to see a lot of the Arlington County Fire Department responses on the borders. So, when this opportunity came up, it was full steam ahead.
I am extremely impressed with everyone I’ve met everywhere I’ve been―visiting the stations, having dinner with the shifts, and meeting everyone in headquarters and in County government. They’re top-shelf professionals who share a common approach and a common practice of trying to make the departments better, trying to make the County better.
Q: What are your first priorities for yourself and the Arlington County Fire Department as you begin your tenure in the County?
A: I have a lot to learn, and there’s a tremendous amount of help and support to bring me up to speed fast. We’ll probably put together a 2019 midterm plan. The first component is a community risk reduction assessment. What are the challenges that the community faces? And the neighborhoods? These communities and the County, are going to be changing over the next few years. How does that impact emergency service delivery?
Q: How do you hope to build on the Arlington County Fire Department’s strong legacy to best position the department for the future?
A: First off, I want to get a historical perspective. I’ve been talking with some of the past chiefs and some of the present leaders. I wanted to see what their perspectives were, what challenges they’ve faced over the past two, four, six years to get to this point. Also, a lot of things were already in process [when I got here]. There’s an incredible amount of just expert resources just arms lengths away, and I’m going to try to capitalize and get as much of their information and ideas as possible.
Q: Throughout your career also focused on relationships with public safety agencies statewide and across the region. How do you see those partnerships benefiting Arlington and the region?
A: We’re extremely fortunate that [our partnerships] are already very strong, and it’s just about building from that point. The way the emergency services system works in the Northern Virginia region, and also the [Metropolitan Washington] Council of Government’s region, everything is interconnected. Everyone knows their partners in the other jurisdictions in their specialties, and it’s simple to make a call, make a request, and resources flow, information flows. It’s the way emergency services regionally should work.
Q: What excites you most about working in Arlington?
A: The Arlington County Fire Department is very high level. The state of resources of facilities, the fleet, the high caliber of people―my imagination is continually spinning. I can see amazing things in the future. It’s also that wherever I’ve visited, traveled, or spoken [in the County], they have similar ideas. Everyone is thinking, what can we do next? How can this be better? That’s an amazing situation to walk into. Some of the programs and processes that are already in place are amazing, and they can be advanced. It’s really a wide, blue sky kind of environment.
Q: What do you want the Arlington community to know as you begin your work here?
A: It’s not about me personally; it’s more about the collective as a whole. It’s everyone doing the small things that make all the big things go so much better. It’s the small details to make sure our fleet is in the best maintenance state, is always ready and can be called at a moment’s notice. That makes the large incidents and the frequent incidents in emergency medical services calls that we provide all day long go so much better. We’re part of a system. Everything is tied in. And it’s been well functioning for a very long time.
I have observed a strong and established commitment from Arlington County government to public safety. It is very clear that all levels and roles of the department are dedicated to high levels of care, compassion, and urgency when providing emergency services. To that cause, there are constant discussions and circulating ideas on how to do things safer, faster, and with greater reach. That frame of mind and focus is what makes me proud to be part of the Fire Department.