Keeping NCI at Frederick Pest-Free—Doug Vaughn

By Samuel Lopez, Staff Writer; photos by Richard Frederickson, Staff Photographer
Doug Vaughn removes a trap from his truck

Doug Vaughn has been NCI at Frederick's pest controller for 22 years.

Nuisance critters and creepy crawlers aren’t a problem at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at Frederick, and that’s largely thanks to the efforts of Douglas Vaughn, the institution’s pest controller.

Endearingly known to some staff as “Doug the Bug Guy,” Vaughn has been doing pest control for 39 years, 22 of which have been at NCI at Frederick. However, he doesn’t just handle bugs, and he isn’t the average exterminator.

Unlike most of his commercial counterparts, Vaughn doesn’t rely on pesticides to solve issues. Instead, he takes a more scientific approach: integrated pest management, which controls pest problems by identifying the contributing factors and deciding how to remove them based on the biology and habits of the pest.

Naturally, that leads to some interesting experiences. Once, Vaughn received a call about “some bees in a tree” near an office building. He arrived on-site to discover that “some bees” was actually a swarm of nearly 2,000 honeybees clinging to the tree’s branches.

Killing them wasn’t an option, so Vaughn decided to get creative, calling up a coworker whom he knew was a beekeeper. After suiting up, the pair worked together to shake the swarm’s queen out of the tree and into a container.

“I held the box,” Vaughn said. “I was covered in bees.”

When the queen fell into the box, the rest of the bees followed her. Vaughn then closed the container and gave it to the beekeeper, who took the swarm home to his apiary where the bees could safely grow and produce honey.

As part of his duties, Vaughn regularly inspects all NCI at Frederick facilities, including the NCI at Frederick main campus and the Advanced Technology Research Facility across town. He also responds to help desk requests, which requires him to be adaptable due to the unusual situations that occasionally come up. Still, he feels prepared for almost anything.

“Every day is routine for me,” Vaughn said. “There isn’t much I haven’t done, and there isn’t much I haven’t seen.”

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t surprised from time to time.

At one point, he was contacted to remove an agitated duck—believed to have been struck by a car—from an NCI at Frederick parking lot. Vaughn arrived to find the creature quacking loudly and flailing its wings. Yet above the commotion he heard a softer chirping noise coming from a nearby storm drain. Upon investigation, he discovered a group of ducklings trapped below the grate.

Suddenly, his job changed from animal removal to animal rescue. Vaughn uncovered the drain and climbed into the darkness to retrieve the ducklings one by one. When he placed the final duckling onto the pavement, the agitated mother duck calmed down and the reunited family quietly walked away.

“She didn’t even thank me before she left,” Vaughn said.

Family is also part of Vaughn’s experience at NCI—he and his son, Bryan, both work for the Facilities Maintenance and Engineering Directorate. Bryan, an NCI employee of 18 years, is an insulator and often works with the sheet metal shop, but he occasionally follows in his father’s footsteps by serving as the pest controller when his father is absent.

Vaughn enjoys his work at NCI at Frederick, and he deeply appreciates its scientific studies and goals. His wife was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, but is now cancer-free due to seven months of treatment. The learning and understanding that came from that experience solidified how much Vaughn enjoys working on the NCI team.

“I respect the work here related to cancer every day I come to work,” Vaughn said. “I am proud to be a part of the NCI mission.”