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Division of Emergency Preparedness & Coordination

Contact Information

Mat Chibbaro, P.E.
Fire Marshal
Paul Richards, P.E.
Deputy Fire Marshal

Division of the Fire Marshal
Office of Research Services
National Institutes of Health
Building 15G-2
Phone: (301) 496-0487
TTY: (301) 435-1908

Hydrant Test Crew

(Photo above) DFM has maintained all on-site services through the pandemic. Shown is the DFM crew about to depart for the Poolesville campus for building inspections and fire hydrant testing (L-R Senior Fire Protection Engineer Ike Yoo, P.E., Assistant Fire Marshal Steve Davis, CFPI-III, CFEI, CVFI, Deputy Fire Marshal Paul Richards, P.E., Senior Fire Protection Engineer & Program Manager Zenia Velazquez, P.E., and Senior Fire Protection Calvin Kane, P.E.).

ORS breadcrumbDFM > NIH Division of the Fire Marshal History

NIH Division of the Fire Marshal History

From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, prior to formalized fire prevention and protection organization at the NIH, there were several significant fires in the nursing units and labs in Building 10 and other lab buildings on the Bethesda campus. Since then, the square footage on the campus has more than doubled and significant fire events have been rare. 

This is attributable to many factors, including improvements in construction safety, introduction of oversight in the building construction permit process, the retroactive installation of fire sprinkler systems, fire safety efforts in the hospital with The Joint Commission, the prohibition of smoking, a commitment to fire safety training, and better management of risks in the laboratories in conjunction with the establishment of OSHA and chemical hygiene efforts.

The Division of the Fire Marshal (DFM) and its predecessor played a major role in all these efforts to protect NIH staff, patients, and visitors, as well as the NIH Mission. Major milestones in the organization and development of fire prevention and protection at the NIH are as follows: 

  • 1987– J.P. McCabe, a licensed Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) graduate of the University of Maryland, is hired from the Chesapeake Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. He is assigned as the Section Chief of the newly created Fire Prevention Section under the Emergency Management Branch, Division of Safety, Office of Research Services. Charlie Barrett and Ken Carter with the NIH Fire Department are reassigned to the Fire Prevention Section. The section was initially responsible for the Bethesda and Poolesville campuses. Their original office was co-located with the Director, Division of Safety in Suite 3C-02, Building 31.
  • 1987 - Fire Prevention Section is officially designated as the NIH fire and life safety Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) under the official functional/mission statement outlined for the Fire Prevention Section. This gives the section the sole responsibility of application and enforcement of fire and life safety codes at NIH-owned facilities.
  • 1988 to present – The value of fire sprinkler protection is recognized from the inception of the Fire Prevention Section. J.P. seeks and obtains funding for the retroactive installation of sprinkler protection in many existing Bethesda buildings. Only a few buildings remain unsprinklered 30 years later – mainly those slated to be replaced.
  • 1988 – Paul Davis is hired as an inspector from the Walter Reed (Army) Fire Department. He is J.P.'s first outside hire.
  • 1988 - Fire Prevention Section assumes responsibility and oversight for technical fire investigation on NIH-owned facilities.  Both J.P. and Paul had CFI credentials from NAFI to handle this role for the FPS.
  • 1988 - Fire Prevention Section initiated representation on the NFPA 45 technical committee (Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals) under the enforcement category.  J.P. had been a committee member since 1986 with his previous Navy employment was able to quickly return to the committee as an NIH employee.
  • 1988 – Bruce Peabody starts as the first student intern from the FPE program at the University of Maryland. Several others follow in later years; some are hired as federal employees or contract staff.
  • 1988 – Fire Prevention Section office moves from Building 31 to Room B2N-246 in Building 10, co-located with the Media and Glassware section in the Division of Safety.
  • 1988 – To reduce the burden of fire alarm activations on the NIH Campus, the Fire Prevention Section begins requiring the installation of spot-type heat detectors in lieu of smoke detectors in laboratories using chemicals on all lab renovation projects in buildings that were not protected by sprinklers.
  • 1989 – Fire Prevention Section office relocates to Room B2S-239 in Building 10.
  • 1990 – Fire inspection services expands with the hiring of Jim Heflin and Dan Walther.
  • 1990 - Fire Prevention Section assumes hazardous work permit duties from the NIH Fire Department.  J.P. arranged a transfer of duties with newly-appointed Fire Chief Bill Magers whereby the Fire Prevention Section would assume hazardous work permit duties from the NIH Fire Department during weekday work hours and the NIH Fire Department would assume all portable fire extinguisher inspection and maintenance duties from the Fire Prevention Section.
  • 1991 - Christine Campbell is hired as the first full-time staff fire protection engineer. She is also a graduate of the University of Maryland FPE program.
  • 1991 – A significant fire occurs in the atrium in old Building 10 during the early morning hours. The fire originated in a display on the floor of the atrium, which had an integral light that was on continuously.  A Montgomery County firefighter was seriously injured during the incident. Afterwards, the Fire Prevention Section developed requirements for wood components in displays to be fire retardant treated and to provide timers to turn off energized displays after hours.
  • 1991 – Fire Prevention Section begins enforcement of the first edition of Manual Chapter 1361, Corridor Utilization. This document was originally drafted by the Division of Safety in the 1980s and the authority over it was transferred to the Fire Prevention Section in 1991, after what is known in dramatic NIH lore as the "Great OSHA-Corridor Debacle".
  • 1993 - Fire Prevention Section office relocates to Building 15G-2.
  • 1995 - Engineering services expands with contract personnel from Cetrom, followed later by GRSi. Original staff included Bob Beller, Ted Edelmann, and Sam Denny.
  • 1996 - The first edition of the Fire Protection Chapter is included in the NIH Design Requirements Manual.
  • 1996 – The Emergency Management Branch, Fire Prevention Section and the NIH Fire Department are moved organizationally from the Division of Safety to the Division of Public Safety.  The Fire Prevention Section remains in Building 15G-2.
  • 1997 - Christine Campbell passes away. Sam Denny is hired as her replacement.
  • 1998 – Annual fire protection engineering surveys are instituted at Rocky Mountain Lab in MT.
  • 2000 - Inspection services expands with the hiring of Michael Garner.
  • 2003 - The Division of the Fire Marshal is created as part of an Office of Research Services delayering initiative. The division is located organizationally within the Security and Emergency Response group. J.P. is promoted to serve as Fire Marshal and Division Director.
  • 2004 - Charlie Barrett and Dan Walther retire.
  • 2004 - Sam Denny is promoted to fill the new Deputy Fire Marshal position.
  • 2004 – A significant fire involving electrical equipment occurs in the basement of Building 30.  As a result, this building was vacated for a few months until the equipment was replaced.
  • 2004 to present - Campus mass notification system initiative is implemented in several phases. This two-way communication system will eventually fully replace the antiquated one-way telegraph box fire reporting system. The original telegraph receiving equipment is preserved in the NIH Fire Station, Building 51. One original exterior telegraph box and post is on display in the DFM office.
  • 2005 - DFM assumes fire hydrant testing & water supply analysis duties on the Bethesda campus.
  • 2005 - Paul Davis retires.
  • 2006 - Inspection Services expands with contract personnel originally from GRSi, then Cherokee Fire Protection and then CMC. 
  • 2007 – DFM begins fire protection engineering surveys at Research Triangle Park in NC.
  • 2005 - Occupancy is granted to the new Clinical Research Center.
  • 2007 - Inspection services expands with the hiring of David Jobes and Steve Davis.
  • 2007-2008 - Engineering services expands with the hiring of Ken Saks and Jack Hui.
  • 2011 - The first edition is issued of Manual Chapter 1370, Fire Protection and Life Safety Building Permit Process. This marks a sea change for the NIH, which previously had no formal permit process with oversight such as a typical city or county would have for ensuring that construction and renovation work is done in accordance with applicable codes.
  • 2013 - DFM assumes fire protection review and approval authority for new construction & renovation projects in the NCI portions of Ft. Detrick in Frederick.
  • 2016 - Mat Chibbaro is hired to replace Sam Denny, who transferred to NCI at Ft. Detrick.
  • 2016 - DFM initiates its Administrative Interpretations program. These interpretations either clarify codes to maintain consistent enforcement or set policies for the safety of NIH personnel and its mission.
  • 2016 - A fire occurs in an unsprinklered office in Building 28. The NIH Fire Department contains the fire to the office, but smoke damage extends beyond the room. The cause of the fire was an overloaded electrical circuit. This highlights noncompliant electrical conditions (such as extension cords or daisy-chained power strips) that DFM inspectors encounter often.
  • 2017 – Responsibility for emergency evacuation training and drills for the Clinical Center is transferred from the DFM to the Division of Emergency Management, along with one part time contractor.
  • 2018 - A fire occurrs in an autoclave on the fifth floor of Building 40. The NIH Fire Department contained the fire to the autoclave, but due to the contents that had burned, the entire floor was closed for nearly a year, with the cleanup cost almost a million dollars. This fire illustrates how indirect fire losses can adversely affect NIH operations even after small fires with minimal direct fire damage.
  • 2018 - The Children's Inn experienced a partial roof collapse cause by construction work. This resulted in half of the building being unoccupied for about one year. DFM supported the NIH Fire Department during the entire incident, and then played a significant role in the temporary partial occupancy, the reconstruction effort, the repair of the fire protection systems, and the re-occupancy of the entire building.
  • 2018 - J.P McCabe retires and Mat Chibbaro is promoted to Fire Marshal.
  • 2019 - Paul Richards is hired as Deputy Fire Marshal.
  • 2019 – DFM fleet expands to three vehicles.
  • 2019 – DFM begins delivering presentations to all new ORS and ORF employees at their orientation program.
  • 2019 – DFM assists the NIH Fire Department in their successful bid for accreditation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence.
  • 2019 - DFM assumes food truck inspection duties to enforce a newly promulgated set of requirements in the national fire codes. In 2020, a more formal process is instituted and integrated with the Division of Occupational Health and Safety's existing food service inspection program whereby joint inspections are conducted both in advance and at each event. Program is coordinated with other Maryland jurisdictions for consistency.
  • 2020 – 2021 - COVID-19 considerations were at the forefront of all NIH operations during the pandemic. Campus population reduced immediately, but construction and renovation projects continued unabated. DFM quickly made unprecedented operational adjustments such as instituting telework, rotating staff coming to campus, and providing PPE. Staff was called upon to evaluate and approve fast-paced physical and operational changes such conversions of patient care units, set up and modification of screening stations and testing sites, related changes to evacuation protocols, and decontamination plans. Customer service initiatives included pandemic-related public service announcements & articles, electronic plan review, and remote inspections where possible and effective. In addition to both supervisors and Federal personnel Ken Saks, Jack Hui, and Steve Davis, contract personnel Darrel Jackson, Mike Locksley, Zenia Velazquez, Ike Yoo, Calvin Kane, and Jon Fan were critical to DFM's ability to maintain all on-site services in a timely and effective manner.