Fire fighters are exposed to various hazards during the course of our work – but a claim filed last month by Everett, Washington firefighters reminds us that all hazards must be considered and mitigated during training activities.
In July 2007, Everett firefighters trained in several old residences owned by the city, chopping holes, pulling ceilings, and performing various other demolition oriented overhaul type activities. Not surprisingly, the activities caused a great deal of dust and particulates to become airborne.
While firefighters were initially told the buildings were asbestos free, after five days of training it was discovered that the buildings still contained asbestos. The firefighters, their gear, fire apparatus, and even fire stations had to undergo decon. Some worried whether they had inadvertantly brought asbestos home to their families.
The city and fire department have acknowledged responsibility for the mistake, and have agreed to follow the recommendations of a consultant brought in by the state to evaluate the exposure. The recommendations include providing life-time health evaluations for 27 of the 49 exposed firefighters and new procedures to evaluating buildings used for training.
The Everett firefighters along with their spouses have filed a claim with the city (a prelude to filing a lawsuit) seeking a total of $9 million. It is reported that the firefighters are not interested in compensation, but rather they want the city to be compelled to pay for the lifetime medical monitoring, as opposed to simply "promising" to provide it.
Given the great lengths we have seen some cities and towns go through in recent times to avoid their moral and even contractual obligations to firefighters, it is undoubtedly a wise course of action.