New details about toxic fumes at Philadelphia firehouse

Watch report from Action News
January 15, 2014 2:54:45 PM PST
Action News has new details about a Philadelphia fire house closed due to toxic fumes that sickened at least two firefighters.

Now new information has surfaced about the chemicals found inside.

The fire department closed the stations doors of Engine 66 on December 17th, leaving a note warning people not to go inside until further notice.

The toxic fumes made firefighters sick, and one of them had to be rushed to the hospital.

Action News has obtained a preliminary report with a list of nearly 30 chemicals that were contaminating the building, including an air test that warns the building was at risk for an explosion.

"We are doing the right thing for the men and women that service our city," says Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers. "And we are going to keep them out of there until the point we can return them to the station and return them safely."

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers stepped forward Wednesday to respond to claims Action News first reported last month, about potential dangers to firefighters inside Company 66.

"Engine 66 is not closed, the station is temporarily out of service," said Commissioner Ayers.

Engine 66 has moved down the street to Ladder 30, about 1.1 miles down the road sparking concerns response times could lag.

Residents are concerned that there appears to be no solution in sight.

"In that area, they can continue to feel safe," said Commissioner Ayers.

But not so fast, says Union President Joe Schulle.

"You are talking about response times in excess of 8 minutes for the first company to get to the scene of an emergency," Schulle said.

Schulle raised concerns about the safety of residents and firefighters.

He provided Action News with a list of chemicals found inside the building, and stressed that there is reason to believe firefighters had been exposed to toxins, including gasoline fumes and carbon dioxide for months.

"Back in September, he noticed thousands and thousands of grubs coming up from out of the ground outside of the station, and that was in hindsight the first indication that maybe something wrong is going on in the station there," he said.

Fire Commission Lloyd Ayers believes the fumes are coming from outside the building, potentially leaking through the ground from one of the surrounding gas stations; one of them was shut down due to a leak.

The fire department is also removing an old gas tank near the firehouse as a precaution.

But to date, they don't know what caused the sickness, and they also don't know when the firehouse will be re-opened.

"We make sure the members are safe. If it is a situation that is going to cause a health problem or something, you see what we do, we get them out right away," said Commissioner Ayers.

The firefighter who was taken to the hospital in December is back on the job, but Schulle says the city refuses to recognize his sickness happened at the workplace.

The union has also voiced concerns about what Schulle says are inhumane conditions at other firehouses. He says many are run down, and contaminated with rodents and raw sewage.

"I don't think our members should be working in these conditions," he said. "It is dangerous enough in the streets working, and there should be a level of human dignity in the stations and having to clean up human waste is just not acceptable."

The second part of the report the union provided includes the explosive levels of the fumes that were taken inside the firehouse.

The lower explosive level was found to be at 42%, which is higher than the 10% that would precipitate a forced evacuation.

The fire chief says it could be a month, or it could be several months before the station is reopened.

Officials are still searching for the cause of the toxic contamination.

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