EVERETT, WA – A group of Everett firefighters who feared they may have been exposed to asbestos during training finally are about to get specialized health monitoring they have sought for years.
It’s a big win for the group of more than 50 firefighters who filed a lawsuit, took on the city of Everett and won.
“We risk our lives for the citizens,” says firefighter Eric Coston, secretary of the labor union who represents the group. “We don’t ask any special treatment, we just want to be taken care of.”
In 2007, during routine training, the firefighters went into old, soon-to-be-demolished buildings that may have contained asbestos.
“They went in there with their chainsaws and their axes, they cut up these buildings, pretending that they were on fire,” says Coston.
He helped bring up concerns with the city of Everett, and was surprised at the response.
“We expect the city would have our back, and in this case, they didn’t,” he says. “We had to push the issue just to take care of these members that were exposed.”
The group of firefighters filed a claim for $9 million – but recently dropped their lawsuit when the city agreed to set up a health monitoring program.
“The agreement addresses the issues raised by the firefighters,” a city spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “The city is always interested in the well being of its employees. The city feels the settlement is fair.”
Under the agreement, the firefighters will be able to get the medical tests needed – for the rest of their lives. That’s an important detail, they say, because symptoms of mesothelioma – the lung cancer which can be caused by asbestos – don’t often show up for several decades.
“This has been a 4 1/2-year marathon to get this taken care of,” says Coston.
The agreement does not cover any other firefighters – just those in the original complaint.