Boston fire truck workers file 'suspicious' asbestos claims

By Jessica Van Sack
The Boston Herald

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BOSTON — The entire fleet maintenance division of the Boston Fire Department yesterday filed claims of asbestos exposure, the Herald has learned.

One city official dubbed the move "suspicious" because it comes a day before a report on maintenance by a city-hired consultant was expected to be made public.

The roughly 20 forms, submitted to the city's personnel department, used the same wording, the official said. But the firefighters' union said the mass claim is legitimate and a show of solidarity that speaks to a larger concern: that the Fire Department's buildings are as antiquated as its fleet.

"(The maintenance building) is probably full of asbestos," said Richard Paris, vice president of Boston Firefighters Local 718. "They're probably fed up."

Paris acknowledged the forms could be used to document future disability cases.

Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser said he was "surprised" by the asbestos claims but added, "It's important that we have a healthy work environment."

Fraser hired an outside contractor that will today test the air quality of the Southampton Street garage where the jakes work.

The maintenance division, based in a garage adjacent to fire headquarters, is at the center of a debate over who should repair the aging fleet of ladder and engine trucks following the Jan. 9 death of Lt. Kevin M. Kelley. He was killed when the brakes failed on the ladder truck he was riding in. Routine maintenance is currently done by firefighters, not licensed mechanics. The consultant's report is expected to recommend hiring a trained civilian inspector to oversee maintenance.

Copyright 2009 Boston Herald Inc.

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