HFD fined for asbestos-related violations during Marco Polo fire response
MOILIILI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two and a half months after a fire ripped through the Marco Polo highrise in Moiliili, the Honolulu Fire Department is being fined over asbestos exposure concerns.
An investigation by the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH) found that HFD violated workplace safety standards by failing to reduce the level of potential asbestos exposure for firefighters. The citation said HFD failed to conduct immediate decontamination procedures following the fire.
"Only one company bagged their turn-out gear and equipment at the scene and the rest of the companies did not do so until they returned to their stations. Some fire fighters did not bag their contaminated turn-out gear until the end of their shift i.e. next morning. As a result, the fire trucks and/or the fire stations may be contaminated with asbestos and/or other hazardous materials," the citation said.
The penalties, classified as serious, resulted in a $7,000 fine for HFD.
Hawaii Fire Fighters Association President Bobby Lee he filed the complaint one week after the deadly blaze.
"We approached the department and asked them to take proactive safety measures and they refused, they disregarded us, so they left us no choice but to involve HIOSH," Lee said.
Asbestos is commonly used as a fire retardent and insulation material in older buildings.
Its fibers are microscopic and can easily be inhaled. Prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health problems, including cancer.
"Our firefighters cannot help the public if they're not kept as safe as possible," said Lee. "In the end, all we want is for this department and this leadership to do their job and put firefighters and public safety first."
The fire department says it's still reviewing the citation and will release a statement next week.
Meantime, officials still haven't released the cause of the fire that killed three people.
Several units remain boarded up and clean up efforts continue.
The Hawaii Salvation Army was on property this weekend offering residents additional assistance.
So far, the nonprofit said it's helped eight displaced families find permanent housing.
"I think it's sinking in, the degree of damage and even the personal trauma they're experiencing, so now they're coming out and saying we really need help," said Anna Stone, Director of The Salvation Army's Family Services Office and Pathway of Hope.
HFD must pay the fine within 20 days of receiving the notice. The department also has until November 2 to abate the violations.
In July, Hawaii News Now reported HFD was under scrutiny for other issues regarding the Marco Polo response.
Lee said he was unhappy with how executives handled it, and that resources were lacking.
"When you're looking at a five-alarm fire, it really is a fire that requires all of the command people to be there, especially the executive staff," Lee said in July. "You got civilian deaths, you got over 100 firefighters there on scene. I was somewhat disappointed that the executive staff, that they weren't there."
Lee says an expensive HFD mobile command unit should've been utilized, but wasn't.
"There's no reason for it not to be there," Lee said. "That's what we bought, or the department bought that truck for. They spent a lot of money, public money, to have that resource available to our firefighters. To not only protect them, but to protect the public. And there's absolutely no reason for it not to be there."
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