Corey Smedley has been a firefighter for the past 25 years, climbing the ranks from rookie to captain in Prince George’s County, Maryland to deputy fire chief here in Northern Virginia. Recently, Smedley took on a new title: fire chief of the Alexandria Fire Department, making him the first African American in city history to ascend to the top role. We caught up with Smedley, who is originally from DC, about fighting fires, public service and what making history means to him.
How did you get involved in fire management?
It was simply from the standpoint of curiosity. When I was a rookie, there was a lieutenant announcement and I wandered in and simply asked if I could listen, which was unique to the veterans there. Fast forward nine years later, I’m a captain and the fire chief tells me he’s considering me for a promotion—a special assistant position in the executive branch of government. I asked, “Why me?” and the main reason was that I was curious from day one.
How does it feel to be the first African American fire chief in Alexandria?
You know, when I started acting about six months ago, I was with my health and safety deputy chief in a fourth interview for the permanent position and he said, “Do you realize what this could mean? You’re about to make history.” It really wasn’t until that moment that I sat back and absorbed that. It was a bit overwhelming at first, so I had to pray and thank God for the opportunity to go through this. Then when I did think about it, two things came to mind. One was opportunity, the second was potential. It’s never been about me or my race. But I realize for those who did not have that opportunity, I am something that they can see in themselves and for those coming after me, they can see the potential.
What do you love about Alexandria?
What stands out to me is how we come together: your public safety agencies, fire personnel, police, the community, how the region comes together quickly to address our challenges in the worst times. It gives me energy. It’s what keeps me coming back every day. No matter what comes our way, we will face it with dignity and come out better as a result of that.
This post originally appeared in our March 2020 issue. For more local coverage, subscribe to our weekly newsletters.