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The Washington Post

Van Hollen, Raskin press Navy to overtake Bethesda fireplace station


It was the form of factor he anticipated to occur inside a burning constructing however as an alternative it occurred at his firehouse: Navy firefighter James Freeman stepped out of his bunk room at Naval Assist Exercise Bethesda and plunged proper by the ground.

His left leg punctured the water-damaged wooden as the remainder of his physique remained above the linoleum tile, tearing his Achilles’ tendon and leaving him hospitalized for a day this previous June.

“I’ve been within the authorities since 2002, and I’ve by no means seen something prefer it,” Freeman mentioned. “I suppose I’m a bit of bitter in regards to the scenario. It may have been one hundred pc avoidable, my damage.”

There have been warnings about poor situations for years, even earlier than the principle firehouse constructing went up in flames in 2019, inflicting important harm. And when Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) visited the set up Monday, they mentioned the services remained in a “whole state of disrepair” they usually demanded that the Navy prioritize constructing a brand new fireplace station to guard the firefighters from hazardous residing situations.

Van Hollen and Raskin mentioned that regardless of years of urgent the Navy to care for the issues, they’ve continued to obtain reviews of sagging flooring, mould, structural points or rodents, together with a mouse discovered within the refrigeration system lately, which a Navy spokesman characterised as a single occasion. At this level, Van Hollen mentioned, the prices of the seemingly endless repairs and the associated fee to the firefighters’ security far exceeds the price of merely constructing a brand new station, which the Navy has not but dedicated to doing in its subsequent finances.

“The price of doing nothing, simply when it comes to {dollars} and sense, are large — even larger when it comes to the human price and danger to the firefighters,” Van Hollen instructed reporters after touring the services and assembly with Freeman.

“Clearly when you’ve firefighters falling by the ground of the firehouse, you’ve an issue,” mentioned Edward Kelly, normal president of the Worldwide Affiliation of Firefighters, who joined the lawmakers on the information convention.

The unique firehouse was constructed within the Nineteen Forties, servicing the set up and surrounding Montgomery County neighborhoods, and caught fireplace in 2019. However even earlier than then, it had been below scrutiny for poor situations. The bunkhouse the place firefighters stay, alternatively, was inbuilt 2011 and was solely presupposed to be momentary.

In a letter to Van Hollen in July, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro mentioned the Navy accomplished “preliminary planning” for a brand new 16,500-square-foot firehouse on the Bethesda set up at an estimated price of $22.5 million, however the undertaking is within the division’s pipeline alongside myriad others. Del Toro additionally mentioned the Navy had awarded contracts to restore the broken flooring, assemble new door frames and improve the constructing to deal with a water-intrusion drawback.

A Navy spokesperson added Monday that repairs to air-con had been additionally executed, and a contract has been awarded to restore the ceiling within the engine-bay that had been water-damaged. That ceiling had additionally beforehand collapsed in 2019, Freeman mentioned, and the current restore contract is because of lingering issues.

However in an announcement, the Navy didn’t decide to constructing the brand new firehouse by the 2024 finances, saying choices haven’t but been made in regards to the finances.

The situations are a part of a sample of issues with the residing scenario on the set up which have endured for years. Earlier this 12 months, service members residing at base barracks at NSA Bethesda, which is residence to Walter Reed Nationwide Navy Medical Heart, lodged a flood of complaints starting from no sizzling water to damaged air-con. Two buildings underwent main repairs, and a type of buildings is ready to reopen quickly after residents had been relocated, a spokesman mentioned Monday. Maryland lawmakers wrote to the Navy at the moment to as soon as once more urge the Navy to prioritize enhancing the situations on the set up — together with the firehouse — and located themselves writing an analogous letter after the ground collapsed on the station.

Freeman mentioned that was not even the primary time the ground had collapsed, underscoring the restricted sturdiness of the upkeep repairs. Seven or eight months earlier, in just about the identical spot of the residing quarters, the ground caved a bit of — “sufficient to scare me,” Freeman mentioned. Repairs had been executed, however had been inadequate. After Freeman fell by he was out for 3 months in rehab, he mentioned.

Scott Burkhardt, the president of the Nationwide Capital Skilled Firefighters, mentioned it was solely a “cheap expectation in a developed society to go to work and never fall by the ground of their place of employment.”

“We’re anxious about sagging flooring and sagging carpentry once we’re attempting to salvage any individual’s home after their home was on fireplace,” Burkhardt mentioned. “We shouldn’t be anxious about rodent and bug infestations. This isn’t Jumanji. That is our livelihood.”

A spokesman for the naval set up, Jeremy Brooks, mentioned the ground collapse was brought on by a water intrusion concern, and that the flooring has since been repaired. Van Hollen mentioned that very same water concern has brought about mould and mosquito issues indoors.

“Most individuals put their mosquito zappers outdoors the home on their patio. The mosquito zappers are inside, as a result of there’s a lot water harm that there’s mould rising,” Van Hollen mentioned. The repeated repairs have created the impact that the constructing is “being held collectively by chewing gum,” he mentioned.

Burkhardt mentioned that the bottom firefighters have had a powerful working relationship with the commanding officer and public works division tasked with doing repairs. He mentioned they’ve tried to do one of the best they’ll, however that it’s a top-down funding concern, with repairs functioning as “Band-Aids.”

“We’ve got a unbelievable relationship with our public works officer right here — he’s pouring his coronary heart and soul into attempting to facilitate this,” Burkhardt mentioned. “However he’s hamstrung, as is the commanding officer right here, with the restricted sources and the restricted finances that he has.”

The commanding officer at NSA Bethesda, Capt. Scott Switzer, mentioned in an announcement that he’s in “fixed communication concerning any points in fireplace division services, and we work to appropriate these points instantly once they come up. We stay dedicated to our firefighters’ security and luxury.”

The Navy will probably be anticipated to submit its fiscal 12 months 2024 finances early subsequent 12 months, and Van Hollen and Raskin mentioned they plan to make sure the Navy makes the brand new building a precedence.

“We’ve got the sources in america of America to permit firefighters who’re defending all of us to have a good and secure atmosphere,” Raskin mentioned, including that the Navy’s “mammoth finances” ought to have the ability to make room for the brand new building with out a problem.

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