Ark. firefighters await station remodel after discovery of toxic mold

Firefighters have been using a classroom and the engine bay as living quarters during the clean-up


Max Bryan
Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — To address black mold in Fort Smith's Fire Station 1, officials have had to look beneath the surface — literally.

The fire station at 200 N. Fifth St. had Aspergillus and Cladosporium fungi in September from groundwater that collected in its floor vents. The removal of the mold has turned into a process involving water suction, demolition and a remodel.

The remodel by Studio 6 Architects and Turn Key Construction of Fort Smith is expected to cost the city $487,900 and last 120 days. And until it's complete, firefighters are using a classroom and the engine bay as their living quarters.

"These guys have been out of their homes," said Fire Chief Phil Christensen.

Firefighters discovered the mold after noticing a musty odor in the weight room in mid-September. A few days later, they noticed "something growing" on the inside of the kitchen cabinet door that came back after they cleaned it, Christensen said.

The culprit was nearly a foot of groundwater that collected in the floor vents.

Firefighters believe the ventilation pumped under the slab penetrates upward when it rains. When the air comes on when it's raining, moisture is circulated through the fire station.

"We bought a sub-pump, we put it down inside there, pumped all the water out. The next day, it filled back up," Christensen said.

A mold inspection survey revealed the fire station had higher-than-average fungus levels in the air. The kitchen, wood cabinets, ceiling grids, and insulation were torn out per inspectors' recommendation.

Since this renovation, firefighters have slept in a makeshift dormitory set up in a classroom in the fire station. They use the engine bay to cook meals, fill out reports and decompress.

 

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These arrangements proved challenging during the week of Feb. 14, when the engine bay didn't exceed 43 degrees during subzero temperatures outdoors. The fire department received roughly 39% more calls than normal that week, causing the bay doors to automatically open every time an alarm sounded.

"While it has not slowed down response time for any type of emergency incidents or anything like that, it has slowed down productivity on our end of it as far as training, any type of management administration duties," Christensen said.

The floor vents will be filled with concrete to address the source of the mold, Christensen said.

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(c)2021 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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