On Thursday, April 17, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) visited the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) National Laboratory Center in Beltsville, Md. to tour the facility and see firsthand the quality of work.
“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has an extensive history of serving communities across the country and I was proud to help secure funding to construct their impressive National Laboratory Center here in Beltsville,” said Congressman Hoyer in a press release. “From DNA testing to fire research, training, and education, the Center provides of a wide range of support services to federal agencies, as well as state and local law enforcement and fire departments, to reduce violent crime and keep the public safe. I thank Deputy Director Brandon, Assistant Directors Burch and Holgate, and the Center’s employees for allowing me to visit today and see firsthand the critical work they are performing. I look forward to continuing to work together to support their mission.”
The tour of the facility included a visit to the Fire Research Laboratory (FRL) which is equipped with a 16,900 square foot burn room that is able to accommodate items as large as a three-story structure. FRL personnel are given access to state-of-the-art hood/exhaust systems, data acquisition systems and instrumentation that allows researchers to measure data such as the burning rate and temperature of materials that have been set on fire.
Guided by FRL staff for the purposes of a research demonstration, Hoyer was allowed to light a fire in the burn room which is an open face box-shaped structure made with wood. The structure resembled a movie set holding the makings of a typical American living room—garnished with a coffee table, sofa, pillows and a television. Everyone who joined Hoyer’s entourage for the tour was able to see the fire spread in what’s called a “flashover demo.”
“A flashover is a transition in fire development. It’s a transition where all of the combustibles within a room reach auto-ignition temperature,” said Eric Pena, special agent/ CFI program manager for the U.S. Department of Justice. “And as a trained investigator, I know when I go into a fire scene—whether it’s a church, house or a business—I can tell that room structure experienced flashover transition because you’ve got uniform burning throughout that structure. When you have a fire in any district, the fire department’s goal is to make sure fires don’t occur and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to prevent that from happening.”
According to literature from Beth Gosselin, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice, the FRL works with the National Institute of Justice to support joint research initiatives that are designed to improve fire scene investigation, reconstruction and analysis. FRL personnel attend comprehensive fire, safety and emergency response training programs at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) that are similar to those required of industrial fire brigades and emergency response teams. The ATF Certified Fire Investigators (CFI) investigates violent crimes of arson and arson-for-profit. They also conduct fire scene examinations and assist other special agents and prosecutors with investigations along with providing training for ATF agents and other federal, state and local fire investigators.
The employees who were observed during the tour gave the impression of attention to detail along with quality work and Hoyer who refers to ATF as a “world-class facility,” noticed.
“I’m always impressed when I come here,” he said. “to see the quality of the people, the work that they do and the nexus between what they do and keeping America safer, sequestering the bad guys and making sure that we learn so that we can try to prevent catastrophes in the future.”