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Firefighters were unknowingly exposed to asbestos while prepping a building for training in Orlando. Their department was forcing them to work on the building without first notifying them of the cancer-causing substance.
“It’s not just me. They’ve been out there working this for weeks, doing demo on the floor for weeks. It’s not just me. Who knows how many other firefighters,” said Orlando firefighter Anthony Donohoe. “We were the ones pretty much shoveling it up [and] removing the tiles.”
Luckily, nine investigates started asking questions before the buildings were used for the planned burning exercises, resulting in the firefighters being ordered out of the apartment and Orange County Environmental Protection officials starting an investigation.
Asbestos should only be removed by licensed and trained professionals, yet this firefighter department was inhaling the fibers without any protective equipment. If not removed properly, asbestos exposure can result and lead to mesothelioma cancer as well as a breadth of other health problems.
“We were scraping, literally using scrapers, some of us were on our hands and knees scraping it,” said Donohoe. “I know you’re supposed to wear like Tyvex suits and respirators [and] we didn’t have any of that.”
Then there’s the possibility of secondary asbestos exposure. Traditionally, a workingman or –woman could get asbestos fibers on their clothes and in their hair at work and return to the home, bringing the fibers with them. Hugging loved ones or washing the clothing could cause further exposure to a person’s family.
“It’s everywhere, you know? Our baby is riding in his car. I was riding in his car. We’re all now exposed to asbestos,” said his wife, Andrea Donohoe.
“There’s a chance that I will not come home one day, there is a chance. I understand that. But to bring it home to my family, to get in my car with all that asbestos dust. To get in my car and bring it home to my family, I just don’t think it’s right,” stated Donohoe.
The city Fire Chief Roderick Williams met with union officials to review the situation. “We are on a fact-finding mission right now. We are looking at all the facts and turning over every stone we can,” said Williams. For now, the bunker gear has been collected for cleaning and the department has a designated health and safety officer.
“We are looking into finding out if anybody was exposed to harmful things out there and right now, we are trying to get out in front of it,” said union official Wayne Bernoska.
A pre-demolition survey showed many other buildings in the Mercy Drive area contain asbestos. Donohue claims he’ll pay to have the building tested if the city says it won’t.