Austin Firefighters Concerned about Asbestos at Fire Station
A group of 24 firefighters in the Mueller neighborhood of Austin, Texas have filed worker injury affidavits with the city after they say they were exposed to asbestos due to dislodged asbestos-containing ceiling tiles in their station.
It’s just the latest in a string of incidents reported in the last two years involving asbestos contamination in city-owned buildings in Texas’ capital city.
This latest asbestos scare was uncovered by an investigative team at local KXAN-TV, which noted in a recent story that it took fire officials three days to report the asbestos tile problem to city officials.
These same officials claim that the loose tile should not result in any health problems for the two-dozen worried firefighters but admitted that the city has plenty of problems – in general – with decrepit buildings that simply aren’t safe.
The city has struggled to keep up with asbestos issues and to make repairs when needed. In the meantime, they’ve drafted rules to help avoid exposure.
“We have a crumbling infrastructure. We have a lot of repairs that need to be done in our buildings,” said AFD Division Chief Craig Walker. “So, we know that there is asbestos in the buildings. But we have policies in place where you don’t make any modifications, you don’t drive a nail without contacting Building Service and making sure that you’re not disturbing any asbestos.”
Already, however, KXAN reports that there have been recent asbestos-related incidents at five separate city departments, all of which may have affected some 200 workers total.
These include Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the Water Utility, Fire Department, Municipal Court, and the Parks and Recreation Department.
Chief Walker seemed to be the person with whom most were upset in this latest incident and KXAN pressed him on why it took three days to make the incident known, leaving the firefighters to wonder whether or not they had been exposed when one tile fell on a desk at the station, generating potentially harmful dust.
“We take the safety of our firefighters very seriously. It’s not okay. To not know as quickly as we can,” he replied. “Over the weekend, not being able to get a hold of Building Services, I could see them not having 24/7 getting somebody in there.”
“The biggest thing that I want to take away from this is that we need to start earlier in getting the right information to our crews, making them understand truly what’s going on,” Walker added, noting that he believes the firefighters did an appropriate job in reporting the issue, even with the delay.
“I think the crews that were there took appropriate actions in covering the area and minimizing anything else that could be disturbed. It was a very limited area where the dust from the ceiling tile fell,” Walker said. “I think that given the time that it happened, appropriate actions were taken.”
Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, added that he would like to see some further changes made and, moving forward, would like his men to be more aware of what’s in the fire stations in regards to toxins.
It’d be really good if we had a published manual on that, on every station, so firefighters knew where the risks are,” Nicks said of asbestos in the buildings. “So, if something happens to that wall, they know if there’s an exposure or not.”