Among other issues, the tragic events of 11 September 2001 showed that flame and smoke are not the only dangers faced by firefighters. Ironically, one of the greatest risks firemen face is from the very substance that was intended to make their job less necessary. The firefighters of New Haven, Connecticut did not receive anywhere near the exposure that first responders at the World Trade Center suffered over six years ago, but if you are familiar with the content of this website, you understand that Michael Bowker was absolutely correct when he stated that there is no such thing as a “safe level” of asbestos exposure. On 12 December 2007, the old Kresge Department Store in New Haven, Connecticut, was destroyed in a three-alarm fire that destroyed six other businesses and caused an estimated $10 million in damage and lost revenue.
Sixty local firefighters spent well over three hours containing the blaze. Of course, firefighters usually wear respirators and air canisters on the job. However, firefighting is very demanding work physically, and the air supply can run out very quickly under such exertion. Most of the firefighters sprayed the flames from the outside, wearing no respirators. Predictably (given the building’s age), asbestos has been discovered in the rubble, raising health concerns over exposure. NHFD Chief Michael Grant expressed guarded concern: “I don’t foresee it being a problem, but let’s make sure we take the necessary precautions… 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.”
Patrick Egan and James Kottage, who are officials with the local firefighters’ union, are more concerned about asbestos that might have been present in the smoke as the fire was burning and how long the firefighters were exposed. Kottage pointed out that there were “some guys who were at the fire for 10, 14 hours,” and that current air quality tests say nothing about how much asbestos the men were exposed to at the time the fire was burning. To date, several claims for asbestos exposure have been filed. The firefighters’ union may file a “blanket claim” for those who may develop an asbestos disease in the future.