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How Firefighters can Minimize Risk of Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureEmergency workers regularly risk their lives in order to save others. Paramedics have to navigate through busy traffic to reach people in need. Cops sometimes have to immerse themselves in tense situations. Firefighters have to battle blazes in increasingly unstable buildings. Furthermore, burning structures force fighters to face another danger: asbestos exposure.

At Kazan Law, we firmly believe that people who put themselves in the line of danger in order to serve the public are deserving of not only gratitude, but protection from workplace hazards. To that end, we believe it is important to review why asbestos is a potential danger for firefighters.

Risk comes from buildings and equipment
Usually, when people consider the risks that firefighters face, they may think about smoke inhalation, skin burns or explosive materials. However, asbestos exposure increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease, such as malignant mesothelioma.

Where would firefighters come into contact with this hazardous material? Experts from the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control in Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection say that exposure can happen if these individuals have to enter a burning building constructed with asbestos-containing materials. Although asbestos is supposed to be both strong and fireproof, roofing, shingles and insulation materials may release particles into the air when exposed to high temperatures or physical impact.

As if that were not bad enough, some older fire-resistant equipment, such as coats and helmets, may contain asbestos. These outdated products are rarely used anymore, but firehouses that utilize them may be putting their workers at risk.

‘Breathing in clouds of asbestos’
One recent story that illustrates the dangers of asbestos for individuals of this chosen profession is the case of Douglas Garnham, a firefighter from the UK who was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. Although he is only 54 years old, his doctors have told him he only has a year left to live. His disease is a possible consequence of asbestos exposure during the 1970s and 1980s, as reported by Get Surrey.

“During his initial training and on refresher training Mr. Garnham would have to crawl into confined and hot spaces, often the ducts under hospital boiler houses, containing pipes lagged with asbestos,” Simon Kilvington, Garnham’s lawyer, told the local news source. “He would crawl over and among asbestos-lagged pipes and through the asbestos dust and debris on the floors. Once the exercise was over, he would knock off the asbestos dust and fibers from his fire kit, breathing in the clouds of asbestos dust and fiber.”

In addition to being vulnerable to asbestos during training, Garnham likely came into contact with the material in burning buildings.

The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, which employed Garnham, told the news source that they are continuing to invest in up-to-date technology and training methods.

Firefighters need to practice safety measures
FireRescue1, an internet network for firefighters in the U.S., says that workers are usually safe while they wear self-contained breathing apparatuses. However, this equipment is not always required on the job. Additional risks of exposure occur if asbestos fibers get trapped in protective clothing.

In order to minimize the risks, firefighters should:

  • Remove and isolate clothing when asbestos contamination is suspected.
  • Sample the surfaces of the response site for laboratory screening of asbestos.
  • Clean clothing in accordance to policy NFPA 1851.
  • Conduct follow-up testing of clothes.
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