The city of Orlando, Florida and its fire department are facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for exposing firefighters to toxic asbestos during preparations for a training exercise back in February.
According to a report by Orlando’s WFTV Channel 9 investigate team, firefighters encountered asbestos materials while prepping an apartment building for live fire training earlier this year.
Specifically, asbestos-containing floor tiles were improperly removed by the firefighters. As a result, lab tests at the site showed high levels of asbestos dust found on gear left at the old apartment building on Mercy Drive.
The city’s Environmental Protection Division has launched an investigation into the incident. Allowing firefighters to attempt the removal of any asbestos-containing products is a violation of county codes.
So far, this has resulted in a warning letter for the city and a violation letter for the Orlando Fire Department. The letters allege that the city violated Orange County code, Florida administrative code, and National Emission Standards for Asbestos laws.
Specifically, the letters state that the city failed to notify and submit a “notice of demolition or asbestos renovation form” and “proof that a thorough asbestos inspection of the facility was done prior to demolition,” reported WFTV Channel 9.
Thus far, the Environmental Protection Division for Orlando has met with the city’s environmental staff, which provided the information and “after the fact asbestos notification.” Both the city and the fire department, for their negligence, face fines of up to $25,000 in accordance with “hazardous substance” laws.
This is not an isolated incident. Such scenarios have played out all around the United States, with firefighters often being in the dark about the possibility of exposure to toxic asbestos. In cases such as the one that occurred in Orlando in February, firefighters are not educated as to the fact that they shouldn’t be handling the material.
Licensed asbestos abatement companies are the only ones that should be charged with that task.
In other incidents, firefighters are exposed when battling blazes at older homes, commercial buildings, or industrial complexes where asbestos is present. If wearing the proper gear, exposure isn’t an issue, but there have been a notable number of cases where firefighters were not equipped with gear that would filter out tiny asbestos fibers. As a result, inhalation of asbestos dust occurred.
Others may have be exposed to asbestos and other toxins during search and rescue operations or during investigative procedures while sifting through the remains left behind after a fire.
Sadly, in the Orlando incident, though about a dozen individuals were directly involved in the asbestos removal, more than 400 firefighters have been training inside the building in question during the last four months and may have suffered exposure as well.
As such, the Orlando Fire Department has announced new policies that they hope will avoid repeats of this scenario.
“We stopped training at the site, and from stopping training, we also will launch an investigation internally in the city to look at best practices,” confirmed Orlando Fire Chief Roderick Williams.
“I think what we’re probably going to do is say, look, if a building is built before 1980, we’ll just all assume that it has asbestos until somebody tells you that it doesn’t,” added Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer.