The Honolulu (Hawaii) Fire Department removed more than 120 sets of firefighter PPE nearly a month after firefighters were exposed to asbestos at the Marco Polo high-rise fire.
Fire union officials are asking why it took so long to remove the potentially contaminated gear from service.
“I think the real question at this point is why the turnout gear wasn’t bagged at the scene?” Hawaii Fire Fighter Association President Bobby Lee told KHON2. “And even with that said, how come it took almost a month to figure out that the gear has to be collected?”
Fire Chief Manuel Neves said the department’s standard decontamination procedures are the same when exposed to asbestos, if the gear is deemed unusable, it is taken out of service.
Lee said that following the fire, the turnout gear was cleaned in washer/extractors back at each firefighter’s station and returned to service. He’s concerned that was enough to remove the carcinogens.
I don’t think any of the manufacturers for these extractors can guarantee that the asbestos can be removed,” Lee said. “As far as I know, the procedures should have been to bag their personal protective equipment at the scene and then take it to the HFD storeroom to be properly addressed, either with a contractor that deals with hazardous materials or work with the manufacturer of the gear.”
And it is unclear if firefighters’ gloves, boots, helmets and hoods are also being collected or decontaminated.
“I didn’t hear anything about them collecting gloves or looking at some of the other gear that the firefighters have,” Lee said, “also the fact of the gear going back to the stations in all of the fire trucks. So you potentially have exposure or contamination in all of the fire trucks, and that leads to now the potential of contaminants in the stations.”
Honolulu Fire Department issued this official statement on why it is collecting the gear.
“Due to new information received from the State of Hawaii’s Department of Health (DOH), the HFD has taken additional precautions to ensure the integrity of its personal protective equipment (PPE) and the safety of its personnel.
“The health and safety of its personnel are always the HFD’s highest priority.
“All HFD personnel are trained in the proper use and maintenance of their PPE and directed to follow these procedures at emergency incidents.
“Depending on the potential exposure due to given assignments at the incident, PPEs go through gross decontamination at the scene. The PPEs are then bagged and further cleaned in HFD industrial extractors.
“The HFD continues to cooperate with the DOH and the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ Occupational Safety and Health Division to determine any significant exposure at the Marco Polo incident.”