The National Institutes of Health is unique to the Federal service in that it is the largest biomedical research facility in the United States with approximately 21,000 people working at the Bethesda, Maryland campus. The NIH is characterized by a complex research environment, presenting a wide variety of hazardous operations including 3,500 research laboratories; a research hospital; animal facilities; computer facilities; a high hazard bio-containment (Bio-safety Level 4) laboratory; commercial and industrial occupancies; day care and infant care facilities; dormitory and apartment facilities; single family residential homes and an underground mass transit train station. Each type of operation presents vastly different and unusually difficult problems regarding the types and variety of hazardous conditions which must be efficiently, yet safely, handled.
The NIH Fire Department provides fire, emergency medical, hazardous materials and specialized rescue services to the NIH. Many of the technological hazards at the NIH are unique and require specialized knowledge and originality in devising methods to prevent and mitigate the effects of the exigency. Pre-emergency planning must be completed in a timely manner and must coordinate the efforts of the Fire Department with many other NIH support activities. Extensive training must be presented to firefighters and other facility staff along with response personnel from surrounding jurisdictions in emergency planning and response requirements.
In addition, the Fire Department serves as the principle liaison with the NIH scientific community and support organizations during emergencies. The Department develops and conducts in-house training initiatives in fire suppression, pre-hospital emergency medical techniques, fire safety initiatives, confined space rescue and other specialized emergency procedures which are necessary to mitigate the effects of incidents involving hazardous chemicals, bio-hazardous and radioactive materials. The Fire Department provides inspection and maintenance on approximately 5,000 fire extinguishers and responds to fires and other emergencies at the National Naval Medical Center and in Montgomery County, Maryland in accordance with current mutual aid agreements.