Asbestos Poses a Special Risk to Firefighters
It takes no special insight to understand that firefighters face many different risks in the course of their day-to-day work. These risks include not only the obvious — fighting fires — but others posed by the environment in which they’re working.
When we speak about asbestos as it relates to the construction industry, we note that those who do demolition work are at particular risk of exposure. Because asbestos was so widely used in construction materials such as drywall, siding, and electrical wiring, those whose job it is to tear buildings down find themselves directly in its path as these materials are broken apart and asbestos fibers are released into the air. So it is with firefighters. As a building burns, asbestos is released into the air and spread around. If a fire weakens a building’s structural integrity to the point that it collapses, firefighters can come into contact with all manner of construction materials, which only increases the chances for asbestos exposure. Take, for example, the 9/11 attacks in New York City. After the World Trade Center collapsed, elevated levels of asbestos were found in the air surrounding Ground Zero, and it took days before they dropped back down to acceptable levels. Not only that, but asbestos residue was found on firefighting equipment months after the attacks had taken place.
The danger lies not only in the fact that firefighters regularly come into contact with asbestos, but that the substance lingers long after the initial contact takes place, endangering not only the firefighters themselves but their friends, family, and others they’re around.
Other Asbestos-Related Risks Faced by Firefighters
It’s ironic that one of the greatest asbestos-related threats faced by firefighters are the uniforms they wear. Because asbestos is naturally fire resistant, it made sense to weave it into the coats, pants, boots and gloves firefighters used to do their jobs. But as these uniforms were damaged or saw the normal wear and tear in their daily use, they released asbestos fibers which were then inhaled by the men and women wearing them. With no explanation of the danger from the fire department or those who manufactured them, firefighters had no idea that which was meant to protect them was actually doing the opposite. And they didn’t understand that this was a danger not only they were facing, but those around them as well. Firefighters didn’t understand that, when they went home at the end of the day, they were bringing asbestos home with them. Asbestos fibers would cling to their hair and clothes, to be touched and inhaled by those around them.
It can be years after an individual has been exposed to asbestos before they realize they’ve developed an illness such as mesothelioma. Studies have shown that in recent years, these illnesses as the result of secondhand exposure have risen. With this in mind, firefighters must take precautions not only to decontaminate their uniforms and the equipment they use so that the substance is not spread to those around them.
If You’re a Firefighter Who Was Exposed to Asbestos
If you are a firefighter and have developed an asbestos-related illness such as mesothelioma or lung cancer, there are several options available to you. You may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation claims can be filed against an employer or the manufacturer of any products which contain asbestos, such as protective gear. Speaking with an experienced asbestos attorney will help you to better understand your situation and the options available to you.