NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NIHFD Acting Fire Chief Burch Is Mourned

Burch wears fire fighting equipment
Acting fire chief Israel L. Burch

Israel L. Burch, acting fire chief of the NIH Fire Department, died on July 19 after battling melanoma that had been diagnosed in April. He was 49 years old.

Burch was a 20-year veteran of NIH Fire and Rescue Services, working his way up from firefighter to master firefighter to captain and finally to assistant chief. He continued to serve admirably as leader during treatment for his illness.

“Israel was a steady influence in the firehouse during a difficult period of transition,” said ORS director Colleen McGowan, in a note to staff. “I’ve gotten to know him very well over the past year, and he was a truth teller and fierce advocate of his staff. We have lost a true hero in my mind.”

The local NIH firefighters union also paid tribute:

“Our local [union] is extremely grateful to have had Chief Burch for the leader that he was. The strides and improvements he has made with our department in such a short time are unmatched. He is the epitome of a ‘Fireman’s Chief.’ Chief Israel Burch put the needs of others before his own until his last breath. Chief, you will be missed but your legacy and teachings will live on far into the future. We will take it from here!”

Burch was inspired in 1988 by his grandfather, the late chief Thomas Cain, to join the fire service brotherhood with the Cobb Island Volunteer Fire Department. Burch served in several ranking capacities there, receiving “Firefighter of the Year” honors in 2000. 

In 2001, after he and his family relocated, he joined the La Plata Volunteer Fire Department. That same year, he was hired by NIHFD. 

A group photo of fire fighters
In 2007, Burch (third from r) was among six NIHFD firefighters honored with a unit citation by Montgomery County Fire Chief Thomas W. Carr, Jr. (third from l).

In August 2007, Burch was 1 of 6 NIHFD firefighters honored for their “extraordinary efforts” in the successful rescue of 5 children from a burning home in Kensington earlier that year. At the recognition ceremony, Montgomery County Fire Chief Thomas W. Carr, Jr., presented the group with a unit citation.

Burch’s survivors include his wife, Sheri Burch; four children; Kayla Watters, Wynter Burch, Dustin Burch and Hunter Burch. He is also survived by his parents and sister, Sarah LaRoque. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the family at

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

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