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Handling of FISC fire questioned

Submitted by on 1, April 10, 2009 – 6:50 am5 Comments

82Sounds like a number of folks are questioning the handling of that March 29 Naval building fire – including some of the firefighters who fought it.

As I reported yesterday, Fire Chief David Kapler told the City Council on Tuesday that someone from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District came out to monitor and take samples of the air around the fire, which was thick with smoke for most of the day that the fire burned. And he said they found no evidence that there was lead or asbestos from the building in the air.

But Domenick Weaver, head of the local firefighters union, said that wasn’t exactly true. In a comment on yesterday’s post, he wrote:

The Fire Chief claims that during the event or shortly thereafter, the air was sampled by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and found to be free of asbestos. To the best of our knowledge, no samples were taken as the representative that BAAQMD responded had told people on scene that he would not be able to obtain accurate readings due to the volume of particulants (sic) in the air.

I called the air quality agency and talked with their spokesman, Ralph Borrmann, who told me that a firefighter was sent into the center of the building to take the only sample his agency got from the fire – and that the results, which aren’t representative of what may or may not have been in the air elsewhere, won’t be available for a few more days.

Borrmann said his agency’s staffer did not take samples upwind or downwind of the fire, but he wasn’t sure why. (I also checked in with Kapler and with the folks at the county environmental health department, who had apparently been called to the scene. They both directed me to the city’s risk manager, Darrell Handy.)

Borrmann said his agency, which will be monitoring the cleanup job the city does with what’s left of the building, urged city officials to post a phone number that people could call to get the correct details on how to properly clean up any fire debris they find. He said the property belongs to the city.

“We don’t know what it is. It could be anything,” Borrmann said, adding that the ash could contain contaminants and if so, there needs to be a plan to properly dispose of it. Kapler told the council that the ash had not been tested.

I’ve gotten comments from people saying they got ash in their yards in the East End, and the Sun had a piece Thursday that featured a resident who said he found paint chips in the fire debris that landed in his yard.

Liz Williams, who lives in the houseboat community near the Cardinal Point assisted living facility, has set up a website detailing their efforts to get to the bottom of environmental issues around the fire. She said in comments on this site that she and her neighbors were not informed of a shelter in place advisory that was issued 12 hours after the fire was first reported.

Kapler told the council that firefighters went to some places in person and that the department put the word out through the news media and through other agencies’ sites. He said they didn’t use the city’s telephone notification system, in part because it is old and slow.

Williams is also saying a friend had some fire debris tested and found that it contains asbestos. And she says the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is investigating. (I’ll check in with them today.)

The air quality agency’s incident report offers additional details about the fire. Sounds like they told Assistant City Manager David Brandt that there was asbestos in the building and explained how to get rid of it (and it also says they didn’t get any complaints or inquiries from the surrounding community regarding the fire).

As I always say, stay tuned.


  • David Howard says:

    The Mayor was too busy recording SunCal robocall promotions to put word out by telephone.

    Evidently the Mayor can find a working automated calling system in Virginia, to make robocalls in support of SunCal's project, but she can't find a working system to notify residents of potential health problems.

    This is what we've been saying for a while now – our City has lost its sense of purpose, which is to protect the residents, not support land developers.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Who is asleep at the switchboard? This is stupid! Isn't there some federal agency who inspects these phone systems? What happens if there is a quake? There is no excuse for the city to let the emergency phone system be part of its deferred maintenance, like the streets. That should be top priority!

  • David Kirwin says:

    Anyone know what the big fire was on Wed? It looked to be across the estuary at the Port of Oakland or Schnitzer Steel.

  • David Kirwin says:

    AFD did not use the auto-call system because the system is 'old and slow' – it can only call 4 #'s at a time.

    While I respect the ability of our firefighters, how many homes can they go to at a time, and how much time does it take them to go to each location? Seems even slow automation beats 'no automation".

    What about using the speaker systems on the AFD and APD vehicles to warn the immediate vicinity if they can't figure out how to use the robo-call system?

    Who can answer if any AFD personal have been properly trained and tested on the use of the robo-call system?

    When was it last used, or has it ever been used?

  • Liz Williams says:

    Thanks for the mention and the link. Denise Lai and I are putting together a chronology of events; I’ll post it tomorrow and come back here to link to it. But because I want to get this word out earlier so people can call city hall (or email if it’s tomorrow), we’ve heard that the city is meeting with the BAAQMD on Monday April 13th. If you’re inclined, a phone call or email might help to bolster their good intentions.My plan is to deliver a copy of the chronology along with the test results of the debris (10% asbestos) to the participants in that meeting.

    For clean-up, I’ve got links to http://www.asbestos.com in the sidebar of the website we put up talking about how to handle asbestos. The short version is: put a hepa filter in your respirator and wear gloves you can dispose of along with the debris. Asbestos is microscopic and deadly, so you won’t see it. If you’re cleaning up dust particles, make sure you keep them wet. If it’s wet, it’s less likely to get airborne.

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