Van Hollen and Raskin urge Navy to renovate Bethesda Fire Hall

It was the kind of thing he expected to happen inside a burning building, but it happened instead at his fire station: military firefighter James Freeman came out of his room with bunk beds at the Bethesda Naval Support Activity and dove through the ground.

His left leg pierced through the water-damaged wood as the rest of his body remained above the linoleum slab, tearing his Achilles tendon and leaving him hospitalized for a day last June.

“I’ve been in government since 2002, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Freeman said. “I guess I’m a little bitter about the situation. It could have been 100% preventable, my injury.

There were warnings on poor conditions for years, even before the main fire station building caught fire in 2019, causing extensive damage. And when Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) toured the facility on Monday, they said the facility remained in a “state of complete disrepair” and they demanded that the Navy prioritize the construction of a new fire hall to protect firefighters from hazardous living conditions.

Van Hollen and Raskin said that despite years of pressuring the Navy to address the issues, they continued to receive reports of sagging floors, mold, structural issues or rodents, including a mouse recently found in the refrigeration system, which a Navy spokesman characterized as a unique event. At this point, Van Hollen said, the costs of seemingly endless repairs and the cost to firefighter safety far exceed the cost of simply building a new station, which the Navy has yet to commit to. to do in its next budget.

“The cost of doing nothing, just in terms of dollars and sense, is enormous – even more in terms of human cost and risk to firefighters,” Van Hollen told reporters after touring the facility and meeting with Freeman.

“Obviously when firefighters fall through the fire station floor, you have a problem,” said Edward Kelly, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who joined lawmakers at the conference in hurry.

The original fire station was built in the 1940s, serving the facility and surrounding neighborhoods in Montgomery County, and caught fire in 2019. But even before that, it had come under scrutiny thorough for poor conditions. The dormitory where the firefighters live, meanwhile, was built in 2011 and was only meant to be temporary.

In a letter to Van Hollen in July, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said the Navy had completed “preliminary planning” for a new 16,500-square-foot fire hall at the Bethesda facility for an estimated cost of $22.5 million, but the project is in the department. pipeline alongside myriad others. Del Toro also said the Navy awarded contracts to repair damaged flooring, construct new door frames and upgrade the building to address a water intrusion issue.

A Navy spokesman added on Monday that repairs to the air conditioning had also been carried out and a contract had been awarded to repair the engine compartment ceiling which had been damaged by water. That cap had also collapsed in 2019, Freeman said, and the recent repair contract is due to ongoing issues.

But in a statement, the Navy did not commit to building the new fire hall under the 2024 budget, saying decisions have not yet been made on the budget.

The conditions are part of a set of living conditions issues at the facility that have persisted for years. Earlier this year, service members living at NSA Bethesda Base Barracks, which houses the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, filed a flood of complaints ranging from no hot water to broken air conditioning. Two buildings have undergone major repairs, and one of those buildings is expected to reopen shortly after residents move out, a spokesperson said Monday. Maryland lawmakers wrote to the Navy at the time again urging the Navy to prioritize improving conditions at the facility — including the fire station — and found themselves writing a letter similar after the ground collapse at the station.

Freeman said it wasn’t even the first time the floor had collapsed, pointing to the limited durability of maintenance repairs. Seven or eight months earlier, in virtually the same location of the living quarters, the ground had caved in a bit — “enough to scare me,” Freeman said. Repairs have been made, but insufficient. After Freeman fell, he was out for three months in rehab, he said.

Scott Burkhardt, the president of the National Capital Professional Firefighters, said it was only a “reasonable expectation in a developed society to go to work and not fall through the floor of their workplace.”

“We worry about floors sagging and carpentry sagging when we’re trying to save someone’s house after their house has caught fire,” Burkhardt said. “We shouldn’t worry about rodent and insect infestations. It’s not Jumanji. It is our livelihood.

A spokesman for the naval facility, Jeremy Brooks, said the floor collapse was caused by a water intrusion issue and the floor has since been repaired. Van Hollen said the same water problem caused mold and mosquito problems indoors.

“Most people place their mosquito zappers outside the house on their patio. Mosquito zappers are indoors because there is so much water damage there is mold growing,” Van Hollen said. The repeated repairs created the effect that the building “is held together by chewing gum”, he said.

Burkhardt said base firefighters had a strong working relationship with the commander and the public works department carrying out the repairs. He said they’ve tried to do their best, but it’s a top-down funding issue, with repairs working like “band-aids”.

“We have a fantastic relationship with our public works officer here – he’s dedicated his heart and soul to trying to facilitate this,” Burkhardt said. “But he’s crippled, just like the commander here, with the limited resources and limited budget he has.”

NSA Bethesda Commander Capt. Scott Switzer said in a statement that he is in “constant communication regarding any issues at Fire Department facilities, and we are working to correct these issues immediately when they arise. “. We remain committed to the safety and comfort of our firefighters.

The Navy is expected to submit its fiscal year 2024 budget early next year, and Van Hollen and Raskin said they plan to ensure the Navy makes new construction a priority.

“We have the resources in the United States of America to allow the firefighters who protect us all to have a decent and safe environment,” Raskin said, adding that the Navy’s “massive budget” should be able to make room. for new construction. no problem.

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