In March, when guidelines were issued to work from home to slow the spread of COVID-19, these six already were. And their “home” was Mount Vernon. Members of Mount Vernon’s on-estate emergency response team—Joe Sliger, Chris Waters, Mitch Clark, Phil Huston, Desi Gibbs, and Marvin Amaya—live on the grounds of the historic estate and work in two-person shifts to provide around-the-clock coverage for any fire, medical, or maintenance emergencies.“
In a lot of ways, Mount Vernon is its own little community, somewhat isolated from the rest of Fairfax County,” explained Joe Sliger, Mount Vernon’s vice president for operations and maintenance, who heads up the team. “Our live-on team is the backbone of our response operations. We’re here on-site, so we can move quickly if something happens.”
When the estate is packed with visitors, the team responds to medical emergencies (some 200 calls a year) or critical operational disruptions, such as utility outages or storm recovery. During the recent closure, however, its focus shifted. In keeping with public health standards, the team ensured that facilities were frequently and vigorously cleaned, particularly those called into service by the Mount Vernon Inn and The Shops at Mount Vernon to support take-out dining and e-commerce. The crew also monitored reports from local emergency management officials and assisted with implementing safe practices as Mount Vernon began planning its reopening.
With many other employees working remotely, the team stepped in to help with duties outside their normal responsibilities, such as mail deliveries and providing cleaning and maintenance for other essential workers who continued to report to the estate, such as the livestock and security teams.
Those who live on-site are specially selected from Mount Vernon’s operations and maintenance force of 80 full- and part-time employees. They must be trained first responders and members of the fire team, capable of operating Mount Vernon’s on-site fire truck and managing on-the-ground fire response. Because their responsibilities can extend to anywhere on the expansive property, including the Washington Library and the Distillery & Gristmill sites three miles away from the main estate, team members must be intimately familiar with all the building systems and prepared to troubleshoot serious issues on the fly.
Crew members often serve long tenures at Mount Vernon. Sliger recently marked his 39th anniversary, while Chris Waters and Mitch Clark have each worked at the estate for more than a decade.
This boots-on-the-ground approach to emergency management is a long-standing tradition at Mount Vernon. Since the early days of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, specially trained staff members have resided on-site to serve as the first line of defense against fires, severe weather, and other safety and maintenance concerns. The team maintains close connections with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and calls upon this external support as needed.
For the most part, the team members were able to enjoy their beautiful home during an unusually quiet spring, although they did have to confront a few emergencies. They swiftly addressed a gas leak at the Mount Vernon Inn and an estate-wide power outage, plus wind damage, including a downed tree and a felled metal light pole. Their presence and readiness to act brought comfort to the supporters, members, staff, and fans who knew George Washington’s home was in good hands.
“Living on this property is a big responsibility, but it’s also a great honor and privilege,” said Sliger. “Those of us who live here are like one big family that looks out for each other.”