By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — A Fire Department training facility was shut down April 8 for investigation of lead after a firefighter became sick due to inhaling irritants.
The city maintains the facility is not a hazard to health.
The building, at 2701 Greenfield Road, was converted to a training facility last October 2015 before closing.
The city’s public works sewage department workers who have also moved out of the building since April 8.
In February, a firefighter began having breathing problems during training. He was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with acute bronchial spasm from inhaling irritants.
Shortly after, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 412 President Jeffery Lentz submitted a request to the city for testing the building in February.
Testing began last month to further investigate the issue, and preliminary results showed lead levels in the dust were three times the normal level.
“The air quality and sewage smell were already present on top of the new lead issue,” Lentz said. “It was in the process of being converted into a training facility for 128 firefighters.”
The building, built in 1931, originally was used for sewage pumping operations. It recently was used for confined space team practices and emergency bail out device and system training.
“We received the new system and were practicing with the harness, rope and descender device to escape a building through a window instead of jumping,” Lentz said.
Free blood testing has been offered for firefighters who were involved in the training while the investigation continues.
A four-point complaint was filed with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration by an unknown employee regarding the building in which the city responded to each.
The complaint listed four issues including: raw sewage smell throughout the building; standing water, heavy dust and poor air quality in a training put located a few floors below ground level; trip hazards throughout the building; and 128 employees exposed to the hazard for approximately five to six consecutive hours each with one employee having to seek emergency medical attending during training.
The city addressed the MIOSHA complaint issue by issue in a response letter.
First, Indoor Air Quality was contacted to perform air quality tests on March 9 and 25 that showed all “air quality tests came back suitable for indoor air quality,” the response read.
For the second complaint, the current training pit area was used as sewage pump machinery housing before a new pump was used. Standing water is a result of seepage through the walls that is controlled via a large sump pump. The dust was determined not to be airborne and normal for the building’s age.
Third, the building was inspected for trip hazards on March 29, including debris, materials, structural floor or stairway defects which were not found, according to the complaint response. There is construction going on at the building but is demolished and disposed on a daily basis, the response read.
Fourth, the 128-employee complaint was addressed with a response by Fire Chief Joseph Murray.
He said multiple injuries associated with training were physically demanding. All injuries reported were muscular in nature with the exception of one. A firefighter was taken to the hospital complaining of shortness of breath. He also was involved in the strenuous activity and is a smoker.
After the occurrence, a claim was first brought up that this was related to the air quality of the building and not other reports of breathing problems or air quality were reported.
Director of Public Works James Murray said the city has been cooperating with a MIOSHA inspector who visited the building and took dust samples and is completing a report within the next few weeks.
“The city was proactive in responding to concerns raised by employees as soon as we were made aware of them, we have cooperated fully with MIOSHA and have taken steps at every opportunity to protect employees,” Director of Public Information Mary Laundroche said.
Joseph Murray did not comment by press time.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])