U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen expressed a litany of concerns Wednesday over living conditions at the fire station on the campus of the military’s Bethesda medical center complex following a fire at the station.
In a letter to Rear Admiral Carl Lahti, commandant of Naval District Washington, the Democratic senator cites serious risks associated with fire debris, mold, sewage and structural damage.
“I ask that you and your staff immediately find alternate living arrangements for the individuals stationed at this facility until restoration can be completed on the building and the health and safety of our firefighters can be ensured,” Van Hollen wrote.
The blaze at the fire station Monday morning caused significant damage, the Navy reported. No injuries were reported and the fire was put out by units from Montgomery County and Naval District Washington.
Van Hollen said conditions at the facility “were unacceptable long before” the fire, citing asbestos, roof leaks and electrical issues.
Base spokesman Jeremy Brooks said the facilities do occasionally have these issues, just like any building constructed in the 1940s, but they’re immediately addressed when identified.
The station has two sleeping quarters, one on each side of the station, Brooks said. About one-third of the structure was significantly damaged by the fire, and the investigation into a cause is ongoing. Normally 10 firefighters are on duty per shift.
Van Hollen’s letter states it’s his understanding that half of the facility is uninhabitable and those on rotation are staying in a garage, but Brooks clarified the firefighters were staying in building 20T, an addition to the main structure meant to be a living facility.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, the naval base said fire department operations have temporarily relocated to the 24/7 Child Development Center. The fire station building is not currently in use.
“The move ensures fire services to the installation from NSA Bethesda’s firefighting team will continue uninterrupted,” the naval base said in the statement. “Our firefighting team will operate out of this building until cleaning, repairs and restoration are complete.”
The fire station is part of the 245-acre base that includes more than 40 tenants, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
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This story was updated from an earlier version to include the Navy’s statement, released Wednesday night.