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Fire in Bldg. 30 Basement Injures Fireman, Suspends NIDCR Research

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An electrical fire on Sunday, Feb. 1 that began in a high-voltage vault in the basement of Bldg. 30 injured one NIH fire fighter, who was treated for smoke inhalation, and temporarily closed the 5-story NIDCR lab building, suspending research. About 70 percent of the NIDCR intramural effort is housed in the building.


The smoky fire drew some 65 fire fighters from NIH, Montgomery County and the National Naval Medical Center, who were on the scene for 4 hours. Few employees were in the building since it was a weekend, and all were safely evacuated, said NIDCR director Dr. Lawrence Tabak.

A security guard is posted at the entrance of Bldg. 30, closed due to fire.

The fire was caused by "energized high-voltage electrical switchgear and transformers exposed to water from a broken chilled water coil," said the Division of the Fire Marshal, ORS.

Bldg. 30 normally houses about 250 people who work in NIDCR intramural laboratories, and is also home to about 15,000 mice used in research, which had to be evacuated. The animals were taken to the Bldg. 14-28 complex. Veterinarians evaluated the animals after the fire.

The employee relocation process was more difficult; options included interim housing in NIDCR laboratories and offices in other buildings on campus, as well as in other institutes and centers.

Workers remove material from fire-damaged Bldg. 30 on the day after the blaze in the building's electrical vault.

The building was closed for business pending a fire marshal's investigation, assessment and repair of any damage and reactivation of the building's safety systems, which were shut down when power to the building was cut off.

Tabak reported that, according to the NIH Fire Department, the fire was limited to the electrical vault, which was damaged substantially; smoke damage to the rest of the building seemed light. As a result of the fire, regular electrical service was cut to Bldg. 49 and Bldg. 29B. Those buildings relied on backup generator power to run emergency systems, including freezers and animal areas, for several hours.

Because electrical power to Bldg. 30 was shut down, NIDCR ordered dry ice to be delivered every 12 hours to chill freezers within the building and sought freezer space in other buildings, as well as with a contractor that provides this service.

NIH Office of Research Facilities Development and Operations staff worked diligently in subfreezing temperatures to secure Bldg. 30 and restore full power to Bldgs. 49 and 29B. Power was restored to those two buildings before 11 p.m. on Feb. 1.

A portion of the high-voltage switchgear for Bldg. 30 that was involved in the fire

NIH fire fighter Darryl Lowery was transported to Washington Hospital Center by ambulance and treated for smoke inhalation. He was released later that evening and returned to duty on Feb. 3.

Tabak praised his own workforce, as well as NIH's Office of Research Services and Office of Research Facilities, in an email update to NIDCR employees on Feb. 3: "I am very proud of how well our staff has stepped up to meet this extraordinary challenge. Special thanks to the many members of the staff who have worked so extra hard the last few days. The ORS and ORF staff and other emergency workers continue to be very supportive and helpful — please continue to work with them — they are really trying hard to accommodate our needs."

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