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Columbia firefighters alerted administration to possible mold weeks before action was taken


Columbia firefighters previously alerted the bosses to possible mold contamination at Fire Station 2 weeks before the city checked it out.

In emails obtained by ABC 17 News on Tuesday, fire crews asked the administration to look at the ducts at Columbia Fire Station 2 after they suspected there was black mold present. The original email was sent on Oct. 1 with follow-up emails on Oct. 5 and 11.

Emails shared with ABC 17 News by the Columbia Professional Firefighters Local 1055

Columbia Professional Firefighters Union President Zack Privette only learned of the emails after ABC 17 News published the original report on possible mold damage at Fire Station 6 on Tuesday morning.

Privette said the city assessed Fire Station 2 this week after ABC 17 News asked about mold on Monday, but determined there was no concern for that building. Firefighters are still occupying Fire Station 2.

"The city and the fire chief kind of claim that they were, you know, that they didn't ever have any knowledge that this could have been a  potential problem in any of our stations," Privette said. "An unfortunate reality is that our guys actually did report it up the chain of command."

Columbia Fire Chief Clayton Farr Jr. said fire officials think the ducts in Station 2 and Station 6 have years of dust buildup but not mold.

Firefighters from Columbia Fire Station 6 are bunking with Station 7 while the city assesses possible mold damage to ceiling tiles. Farr said firefighters at Station 2 have been relocated.

Mold tests will be conducted starting Wednesday, Farr said.

ABC 17 News looked into an anonymous tip that Fire Station 6 has mold growing. City officials, the Columbia fire chief and the Columbia Professional Firefighters Union said Monday no one on staff had reported the possible mold before ABC 17 News inquired.

Possible mold on ceiling tiles in Columbia Fire Station 6
Courtesy: Anonymous

Farr said the health of staff is his No. 1 priority.

"No staff on the site were mold specialists," Farr said. "However, out of an abundance of caution, Station 6 crews have been relocated to Fire Station 7 until a full evaluation of the building can take place and any areas of concern properly addressed."

Sydney Olsen, spokesperson for the City of Columbia, said Public Works staff would look into the possible mold Monday. Tuesday morning, Farr said firefighters had been removed from the building.

“This is the first time our office has heard of this issue," Olsen said Monday. "We take the health of our staff very seriously so we will be doing an assessment of the building to look into this report. I will forward this to our Public Works director whose staff will look at the facility. If we find there is mold, we will have it removed.”

Spray paint around a vent in Columbia Fire Station 6.
Courtesy: Anonymous

The pictures sent to ABC 17 News were taken in a sleeping area. The anonymous sender expressed concern about mold in two areas -- the ceiling tiles and a vent. Privette said the black color around the vent is just spray paint left over from previous bathroom renovations.

However, the source of the stains on the ceiling tile was unknown. The tiles were being assessed for mold Tuesday.

Privette said the area Station 6 serves will likely experience a lag in response times while crews are out of the building.

Privette is calling on the city to be more proactive in its building maintenance to prevent issues like this.

"I think if we could develop a program where our stations are on an annual maintenance program, we have a staff member or more staff members that are available to focus their time and effort on that and that we would be better off in the long run to keep them up rather than try to pay for major repairs later on," Privette said.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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