CFPC: Firefighters Exposure to Asbestos

Asbestos and Firefighters

When a building or structure is on fire, local firefighters are often the first responders to the disaster. Without regard for their own safety, saving lives and reducing property damage become the primary objective. Because many buildings constructed during the early and mid-1900s contained toxic materials like asbestos or materials made from asbestos, firefighters can expose themselves to dangers beyond the actual fire.

Prolonged exposure to these burning materials and chemicals can cause deadly diseases such as mesothelioma. This hazard is best exemplified by the rescue efforts of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. As buildings collapsed, firefighters and other first responders were exposed to inordinate amounts of smoke, dust and debris.

If you are a firefighter that has been exposed to asbestos or know someone that has, please complete the form on this page to receive an informational packet about mesothelioma and asbestos related diseases. To speak to a Patient Advocate at the Mesothelioma Center who can help you find the doctors and specialists in your area, call 800-615-2271

Click here for more information about asbestos and fires

Firefighters and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos exposure occurs in firefighters when they enter a building that was constructed with asbestos and is on fire and burns to a degree that causes the structural material to degrade. Even though asbestos was used for its fire-resistant and insulating properties, extremely high temperatures can cause the material to breakdown. When it degrades or decomposes, its toxic particles move into the air. Inhalation of these dangerous fibers can cause a variety of health issues, including mesothelioma.

Furthermore, the hazard of asbestos is not only present in the structure itself, but often in the materials and products within the building. Since asbestos is used in a number of products, the culmination of a burning building and the contents inside can cause increased asbestos particles to be present in the air, endangering rescue workers and anyone else inside or near the structure.

Some asbestos products that firefighters are exposed to when entering a fire-damaged building include:

  • Roofing materials
  • Pipe and/or duct insulation
  • Furnace door gaskets
  • Shingles
  • Vinyl

To search for products that were commonly made with asbestos, please view the asbestos products page.

Unfortunately for firefighters, additional dangers may exist in materials that they are more frequently exposed to. Because of its heat-resistant properties, some firefighter equipment included asbestos materials before the dangers of asbestos were widely known. Some of this equipment includes asbestos helmets and coats; however these items are rarely used anymore. The long-term use of this old equipment may pose a significant health hazard because of the constant asbestos exposure.

Below are several important prevention tips that firefighters can use in order to prevent asbestos exposure.

   Continue to wear SCBA while searching for hotspots during overhaul stage

   Wet parts of the building where firefighters are working to minimize asbestos fibers released into the air

   Venting and entry techniques, which often involve opening walls, should always be performed with protective equipment

   Equipment and clothing should be washed at the scene, if possible, to prevent the spread of contaminants beyond the work site

Diseases associated with asbestos exposure can often take up to 30-40 years after initial exposure, so even people who haven't worked as a firefighter in many years may still be at risk for developing mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Firefighters and former firefighters are urged to discuss their possible asbestos exposure with their doctor and to receive regular check-ups for any signs of asbestos-related disease.

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Litigation

Countless occupational hazards exist within the firefighting profession, yet some of them are preventable. In instances where negligence occurred, firefighters may decide to take legal action against a company, city or organization to compensate them for damages that occurred.

Everett Firefighters

One example of litigation occurred in 2010 in which firefighters in the city of Everett, Washington, filed a $9 million claim against the city. The claim stemmed from a July 2007 training session, during which firefighters performed practice exercises in city owned buildings known to contain asbestos.

Initially, firefighters were told the training facility was asbestos-free. After five days of exercises, it was discovered the buildings still contained asbestos. Because there was no actual fire during the exercises, the firefighters did not wear protective breathing equipment, further increasing the exposure levels.

In addition to personal harm, the firefighters feared that they brought home contaminated materials from the buildings, possibly exposing their families to asbestos. According to the attorney representing the Everett firefighters, they want the city to pay for the monitoring of their health for the lifetime of the exposed firefighters.

Additional Links:

Where Asbestos Typically is Found in Homes

Firefighters and the Risks Involved with Asbestos Exposure

comprehensive overview of mesothelioma

Content Last Modified on 1/21/2016 11:44:37 AM