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Maryland Delegation Members Press Navy for Update on New Walter Reed Base Firehouse After Firefighter Injury

Lawmakers request detailed information on plans for new firehouse by July 5

“We write to express our deep concern for the unacceptable working conditions at the firehouse located at Naval Support Activity-Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and request the completion of the Navy’s plan for a new firehouse with the utmost speed and diligence.”

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone (all D-Md.) called on U.S. Navy leadership to immediately address the unsafe working conditions that firefighters face at the fire station on Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bethesda, the site of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In their letter to the Secretary of the Navy and Commandant of Naval District Washington, the lawmakers outlined a troubling pattern of deteriorating living and working conditions at NSA Bethesda facilities, citing a recent incident in which a firefighter partially fell through the floor of the aging firehouse. The lawmakers noted that previous inquiries after a 2019 fire at the firehouse and regarding recent reports of substandard conditions in the junior enlisted barracks at NSA Bethesda have not produced immediate action to make needed changes.

“We write to express our deep concern for the unacceptable working conditions at the firehouse located at Naval Support Activity-Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and request the completion of the Navy’s plan for a new firehouse with the utmost speed and diligence,” the lawmakers wrote. “As you likely know, the living and working conditions at the NSA Bethesda firehouse have been unacceptable for years, plagued by mold, asbestos, roof leaks, electrical issues, and structural instability even before a 2019 fire rendered half of the facility uninhabitable.

“Just two weeks ago, a firefighter at the Walter Reed firehouse partially fell through the floor of the building and was sent to the emergency room to receive treatment. It is shameful and unacceptable that conditions at NSA Bethesda facilities remain in this state, and further underscores the clear and urgent need for the Navy’s immediate action on construction plans for a new firehouse,” they continued.

Pointing to a February 2021 update from the Navy which states that planning for the construction of a new fire station on the base is underway, the lawmakers asked for a written response from the leadership by Tuesday, July 5 detailing when the plan will be completed.

“We owe it to the men and women entrusted to the care of this installation that NSA Bethesda and Walter Reed are home to world-class facilities and management. We appreciate your immediate attention to this matter,” the lawmakers concluded.

The full letter can be read here and below.

Dear Secretary Del Toro and Rear Admiral Lacore:

We write to express our deep concern for the unacceptable working conditions at the firehouse located at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and request the completion of the Navy’s plan for a new firehouse with the utmost speed and diligence.

In March 2019, Senator Van Hollen wrote to then-Commandant RADM Carl Lahti to express serious concern for the health and safety of the firefighters working at NSA Bethesda. As you likely know, the living and working conditions at the NSA Bethesda firehouse have been unacceptable for years, plagued by mold, asbestos, roof leaks, electrical issues, and structural instability even before a 2019 fire rendered half of the facility uninhabitable. On February 17, 2022, Senators Van Hollen and Cardin and Congressman Raskin wrote to Secretary Del Toro regarding the conditions at NSA Bethesda’s Comfort Hall and Sanctuary Hall and expressed concern that, viewed alongside the persistent problems at the firehouse, the neglect of facilities at this installation appear to be more than an isolated problem.

While some steps appear to have been taken to mitigate issues we highlighted in the past at the barracks, the firehouse remains in critical condition. Just two weeks ago, a firefighter at the Walter Reed firehouse partially fell through the floor of the building and was sent to the emergency room to receive treatment. It is shameful and unacceptable that conditions at NSA Bethesda facilities remain in this state, and further underscores the clear and urgent need for the Navy’s immediate action on construction plans for a new firehouse.

While we understand that military installations often operate under budgetary constraints and with competing priorities, unsafe working conditions and the inability to respond effectively to fires on an installation pose immediate threats to military readiness. As such, the working conditions at the NSA Bethesda firehouse must be a priority. Yet, to date, despite Congressional staff visits, Congressional requests that this facility be prioritized for replacement, and report language accompanying the FY 2020 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill directing the Navy to prioritize fire and emergency services facilities, a permanent solution has still not been identified and the Navy has not prioritized the construction of a new fire station in its budget submissions to Congress.]

In a February 2021 information paper provided to Senator Van Hollen’s office, the Navy wrote that “[p]lanning is underway for a new Joint Navy/Defense Health Agency Fire Station at NSA Bethesda, and that project will be evaluated for funding in future budget cycles against all other military construction needs.” However, we have received no further communication regarding the progress of these plans. Therefore, we ask that no later than Tuesday, July 5, you respond in writing with an estimate of when planning will be completed for the new fire station.

We owe it to the men and women entrusted to the care of this installation that NSA Bethesda and Walter Reed are home to world-class facilities and management. We appreciate your immediate attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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