WASHINGTON – On Monday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman Jamie Raskin (both D-Md.) joined fire fighters working at Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSA Bethesda) – the naval installation home to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – along with International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Edward A. Kelly and National Capital Federal Fire Fighters President Scott Burkhardt Jr. to discuss progress in pushing the Navy to improve the living and working conditions for the fire fighters who serve the base and the surrounding community. The lawmakers and IAFF leadership toured the station and saw first-hand the subpar living conditions that persist within the existing fire station and living quarters – including issues such as water leaks, mold, pest infestation, and a broken exhaust removal system, among others. Following their tour, the group reaffirmed their efforts to push the Navy forward and pointed to a recent confirmation from the Secretary of the Navy that preliminary planning for an entirely new 16,000-square-foot fire station has been completed, at an estimated cost of $22.5 million. This progress follows the letter sent by the Senator and his colleagues pressing for an update on the Navy’s efforts to address the unsafe conditions at the facility and is a crucial step in allowing future funding of the project.
Senator Van Hollen and IAFF leadership also highlighted the Fire Station Construction Grants Act, legislation the Senator recently introduced to help build and upgrade fire stations in Maryland and across the country.
“The deplorable conditions that persist at the NSA Bethesda firehouse not only endanger our fire fighters – they also make it more difficult for them to protect the Walter Reed complex and the surrounding communities. But with the help of the fire fighters and IAFF, we’ve finally pushed the Navy leadership to commit to a plan to build a brand new fire station fit for the mission of this base that is at the vanguard of military medicine and serves our wounded warriors and thousands of veterans,” said Senator Van Hollen. “I’ll keep working to push the Navy to provide the necessary funds to get this project off the ground, and I am committed to ensuring our fire fighters and first responders and have the tools they need to keep us all safe.”
“The firefighters at NSA Bethesda provide an essential public service to the naval base and surrounding community, yet their facilities remain in a state of unacceptable disrepair,” said Rep. Raskin. “These brave public servants regularly put their lives in danger to protect us. They should never feel unsafe in their home station. While I commend Secretary Del Toro for committing to build a new fire station, I urge the Navy to carry out swiftly the interim facility repairs required to keep our firefighters safe today.”
“Fire fighters are answering calls today from dilapidated fire stations across the United States. The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center provides world-class medical care to our brave military, yet its fire station is in shambles. Just this summer, a fire fighter there sustained a serious injury when he fell through the floor and required three months of rehabilitation. This injury was preventable; it should not have occurred,” said Edward A. Kelly, president, International Association of Fire Fighters. “The staff at Walter Reed has done everything it can with the resources it has to repair the current station. It is time for the Navy to prioritize the modernization and replacement of this house and others like it at bases around the nation. The IAFF is grateful to Representative Raskin and Senator Van Hollen for their steadfast dedication to fire fighters and their continued efforts to correct the decades of inaction that have left our nation’s fire stations in a failing state.”
“IAFF Federal Fire Fighters should not have to worry about falling through the floor of their bunk room. We worry about that when we're in burning buildings. We also shouldn’t have to worry about waterlogged flooring or insect infestations where we live and work, but it’s a reality that our federal fire fighters face every day,” said Scott Burkhardt Jr., president, National Capital Federal Fire Fighters. “The leadership of NSA Bethesda, Walter Reed, and the Commander Navy Region have all express their support for us, but they have been hamstrung by cuts to their budgets and the meddling of their internal affairs. We as fire fighters aren’t asking for more than what the Navy Facilities Engineering Command have told us we’re supposed to be able to expect in our stations. That’s what we’re fighting for, and we’re glad Senator Van Hollen and Congressman Raskin have our backs.”
Following the June 28 letter sent to Navy leadership by Senator Van Hollen and his colleagues seeking an update on the status of the firehouse, U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told the lawmakers that the Navy has completed its preliminary plans for a new 16,000 square-foot fire facility and committed to working to budget funds for its construction. Secretary Del Toro also outlined how the Navy planned to fix many of the immediate safety issues in the existing fire station – where fire fighters are still living – and those plans include replacing damaged floors, installing new doors and frames, and making retrofits to prevent water leaks, among others. Additionally, the Secretary provided an update on the improvements made in two barracks for junior enlisted service members on NSA Bethesda, the conditions of which Senator Van Hollen and his colleagues had also raised concerns about earlier this year. Secretary Del Toro’s letter to Senator Van Hollen and his colleagues can be viewed here, and form outlining the plans for the new fire station can be viewed here.
Senator Van Hollen has consistently championed issues important to fire fighters and first responders during his time in the Senate. Last year, as part of the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, he passed his Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act into law. This legislation allows federal fire fighters to trade shifts across pay periods without it affecting their overtime. State and local fire fighters have been able to engage in trade time for many years, and this law extended that right to federal fire fighters. Additionally, last month, Senator Van Hollen introduced the Fire Station Construction Grants Act, a bill that authorizes $1 billion in grants to be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help modify, upgrade, and construct fire and EMS department facilities.
A member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Van Hollen works each year to secure federal funding for local fire departments and EMS agencies across Maryland to enhance their response capabilities and ability to protect the health and safety of the public and first-responders. So far this year, he has led his Congressional colleagues in announcing over $15.5 million for various agencies around the state.