Northwest NEWS

April 19, 1999

Front Page

Mold attacks Bear Creek station, forces firefighters out

Toxic levels of wall and airborne mold in the WFLSD station located at Bear Creek have forced firefighting personnel to vacate the building. Crews are now spending their three-day shifts in a single-wide trailer. With such cramped space in the trailer, firefighting gear remains outside.
Staff photo by Marshall Haley.

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   Woodinville Fire & Life Safety District (WFLSD) closed Station #33 in the Bear Creek area March 23, due to toxic mold that gave firefighters flu-like symptoms and other respiratory ailments for several months.

   In order to preserve local service, however, firefighters are voluntarily spending their 24-hour shifts cramped in a single-wide trailer since Feb. 29. An awning extends over the front of the trailer to protect their firefighting gear from the weather.

   Fire Chief Steve Smith said a large tent was erected April 14, and the fire district will soon place a double-wide trailer on the property for better living conditions for firefighters. "We have to protect our engines and equipment from the elements," he said. "Our men have handled this inconvenience very well. They have personal gear they can't get out of [the station], as well as all the office records."

   WFLSD contracted Aerotech Environmental to investigate possible toxicity. Aerotech's March 15 testing found that water leaking from the roof had created water damage, with resulting toxic levels of wall and airborne mold in the weight room, laundry room, living room, and three places in the truck bay.

   Toxic spore levels of the mold Stachybotrys were probably carried by air currents from the bay area to the living areas, Aerotech found. Stachybotrys produces potent mycotoxins and has been suspected as the cause of several infant deaths in Cleveland, Ohio. Exposure occurs through ingestion, contact with skin and inhalation. Symptoms can include coughing, nosebleeds, cold and flu symptoms, headache, general malaise, fever, increased incidence of infection, rhinitis, and dermatitis.

   Aerotech's Arizona lab report reached the fire district March 23, recommending the immediate evacuation of the fire station "until the mold is effectively remediated." One restoration company told Smith that getting rid of the mold is very similar to the removal of asbestos.

   "That will mean the fire station probably won't be re-opened until September," said Smith. "First, we have to wait for a sure spell of dry weather to repair the roof, which usually means late July or August. Then, every bit of drywall has to be removed, the whole building treated to kill all mold; then the interior will be refinished. The good news is the carpeting doesn't need replacement. The bad news is the money we will lose by having to buy a trailer adequate to house the men and serve as an office area, then having to turn around and sell it in six months. It's a depreciation similar to selling a six-month-old car."

   Fire district union representative Wally Holstad has been pleased with the district's responses to worker needs. The union members had agreed to the emergency living conditions, with the stipulations that they would not have to remain in the single-wide trailer after April 16, and that the fire crews at Station 33 be reduced.

   "We spend one-third of our lives here, in 24-hour shifts of three days on, five off," said Holstad. "The single-wide is uncomfortable for everyone. We're living here, not camping. The double-wide won't be like home, but it will work. These living conditions are very difficult for them, but their primary concern is providing timely service to the local community."

   Holstad said firefighters need laundry facilities, a food preparation area, storage areas for three shifts of three-person crews, and a degree of privacy in their individual sleeping and study areas.

   In their April 6 meeting, WFLSD commissioners agreed with the union's needs, the emergency nature of the situation, and authorized Chief Smith to proceed with all necessary steps for remediation of the emergency. Those steps include the best comparitive provisions for housing, fire equipment, and office space, and negotiating bids for cleanup and construction.