Firefighters Fear Asbestos Exposure

New Haven, Connecticut city officials are concerned that several of their firefighters may have been exposed to asbestos while fighting a fire at a large defunct department store earlier this month.

According to an article in Newsday, about 60 city firefighters fought the blaze at the old Kresge department store on December 12th. The smoke was thick and acrid and most of the firefighters wore air packs that only last about 30 minutes. Many of them fought the fire for hours.

Two of a dozen samples of debris sent to the state Department of Public Health were positive for asbestos, said Andy Rizzo, the head of New Haven’s Livable City Initiative. Daily monitoring since the fire has shown safe air quality levels, he said.

“Certainly, there’s always a concern in a fire in an old building with the fire department,” Rizzo said.

Seven firemen were checked for exposure at nearby Saint Raphael Hospital, the article points out, and firefighter Patrick Egan, the union’s president, said the union is “considering filing a blanket claim to put the asbestos exposure on record in the event of future illness.”

Fire Lt. James Kottage, another union official, said that “the concern about the Kresge building fire largely revolves around the asbestos and duration firefighters were exposed to the smoke and fumes.”

“You have some guys who were at the fire for 10, 14 hours,” Kottage said. Air quality tests conducted after-the-fact, he added, wouldn’t necessarily account for what was in the smoke at the time of the fire.

Chief Michael Grant thinks the potential of exposure is minimal but believes he can’t be too safe when it comes to protecting the men and women who fight New Haven’s fires.

“Let’s make sure we take the necessary precautions,” he said. “It’s not like the World Trade Center collapse, nothing of that magnitude, but it’s certainly something that you want to address, the concerns that the firefighters might have.”

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