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Fullerton firefighters concerned over hazards, respiratory issues

Fullerton firefighters are complaining about respiratory problems at their stations.
March 25, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some firefighters in Fullerton are complaining about respiratory problems at their stations, and they say the hazards could have been cleaned up a long time ago.

The firefighters say officials have known about the health hazards for some time, but nothing has been done to clean things up.

One firefighter says black debris has dropped from an air vent at Fire Station 1 headquarters. Tests revealed fiberglass was among the dirt in the ventilation system. It was cleaned last month, but firefighters say the problems continue.

Mark Huckabey, president of the Fullerton Firefighters Association, says firefighters are suffering from runny eyes, runny noses as well as coughing.

Firefighters say the respiratory problems go back decades.

"I worked 10 years down at our headquarters station as a captain. Three or four times a week, I would notice large chunks of debris coming out of the ventilation system," said Station 3 Fire Capt. Dave Appel.

Firefighters work 48-hour shifts, so they live at their stations. They say when they leave, so do their symptoms.

"Once I go home, it's not there any longer, so it is station related," said Fullerton Fire Capt. Pete Gray.

The Fullerton Firefighters Association has filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA to investigate. They allege hazardous conditions at stations 1, 5 and 2. That's half of Fullerton's fire stations.

"The safety of the community and safety of department members, sometimes it doesn't go as quickly as I would like, but our goal is to make sure everything is abated and taken care of," said Fullerton Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe.

Documents show city officials knew back in 2006 about an asbestos problem at Fire Station 1 after some firefighters were exposed to the hazardous material.

"There was some asbestos was found. However, it's encapsulated, and when the repairs to that bathroom take place, it will be mitigated also," said Knabe.

Exactly when repairs will start and how long it will take is still not clear.

Firefighters at Station 2 have a remodeled shower area and kitchen since last year after there was water damage. But firefighters say they're worried about asbestos. A notice is posted warning people "not to enter the attic." It says "the department will deal with the situation?as soon as possible." That memo was dated March 24, 1995.

"I think it's neglect. There's obviously an asbestos problem that's an identified hazard and it hasn't been addressed. It's been forgotten about," said Huckabey.

I asked the fire chief if it's acceptable to have that in a fire station where firefighters are living.

"All we can go by with the fire department with the city is when we have contractors come in, and when we have bonded contractors come in do the work, if they say it's alright, that everything is good to go, that's what we rely on," said Knabe. "We thought Station 2 was pretty good, and again, your report is the first time I've heard of that."

At Fire Station 5, tests performed last year show mold and asbestos concerns. The fire chief says work is expected to begin there in April. Firefighters say they hope it will end their respiratory symptoms.

"Just because it's happening doesn't mean necessarily it's hazardous issue, but it does mean we need to look at the causes and fix those for our firefighters," said Knabe.

The fire chief says he has not yet seen the complaint filed with Cal/OSHA.

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