When Edward Wyatt arrived in Fairfax City from Greenville, N.C., to take over his new job as city manager in March,, he complained that he couldn't find temporary shelter within city limits to suit the $250-a-month housing allowance Fairfax had set aside for him.
So city Fire Chief Gene Dailey offered Wyatt a room for free--at the city's Fire Station 33 on Lee Highway near Chain Bridge Road. "I suggested it after he told me he didn't like staying in hotels," said Dailey.
The City Council approved the move, and Wyatt, 40, gave up his allowance and moved in. He says he plans to stay at the fire station until his son finishes school in Greenville and he can get a permanent home in Fairfax City for his family.
"I wasn't in a position with a new job to get into housekeeping," said Wyatt. "It's just difficult to find suitable housing within the city limits this time of year with all the students still in school" at nearby George Mason University, he said.
The city's top administrator, required by law to live within city limits, says he's comfortable in his private room at the fire station, even though the accommodations are not hotel-like. Wyatt shares a bath with several firefighters, paramedics and volunteers and is periodically disturbed at night by fire alarms.
Fire officials said that at first they were somewhat uncomfortable having their boss around but have grown accustomed to his presence.
"I think there may have been a little concern at first about him being there," said Chief Dailey. "But these guys are professionals; they don't get upset just because someone else's around."
"We treat him like one of the guys," said station Lt. John Boon. Yet Boon conceded that when the firefighters cooked dinner for Wyatt recently, they refused Wyatt's offer to help with the cooking or dish washing.
Despite his problems finding shelter, Wyatt doesn't view himself as a victim of Washington's tight housing market. "Housing prices here don't really bother me," said Wyatt, who served as Greenville city manager for four years before accepting the job in Fairfax. He said he will probably have fewer problems finding a permanant home here than he encountered looking for a temporary room.