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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Fire Department air packs found to be clear of contaminants

Seen through a control-room window, Rob Dezellem (cq), right, a volunteer firefighter from Brewster, Wash., waits for trainees on Oct. 21, 2006. Testing of Spokane Fire Department air tanks has revealed no evidence of contamination. (Holly Pickett / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane firefighters may soon breath easy again after a recent round of testing determined there are no contaminants in the department’s air tanks.

The test results, announced by the city Thursday morning at a news conference, come from health consultant companies Veritox, Inc. and TRI Air Testing, which both found no traces of toxic metals in firefighter’s self-contacted breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles.

Further testing from Veritox determined it was unlikely that firefighter personnel were exposed to contaminants in the past.

“Basically every component of the process was able to be evaluated,” said Randy Marler, president of the Spokane Firefighters Union. “And it all came up clear. There were zero contaminants in any of the air.”

The department came under fire from Labor and Industries in early December after some bottles and two of its air compressors – used to fill air packs for the department’s 330 firefighters – were reported to contain contaminants. On Dec. 21, the agency opened an investigation, which is still pending.

The two compressors and the roughly 500 department-owned air packs were removed from service when the problem was first discovered. In the meantime, the department received loaner bottles from neighboring fire districts, and borrowed air compressors from the Valley and other districts when needed.

Spokane City Council members initially stalled purchase of new compressors in December, when the problem was reported by Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.

In January, the funding was granted and two new devices were purchased at a cost of $160,000 from Bauer, a California-based firm specializing in air purification systems. The compressors are expected to arrive at the end of March.

On Jan. 11, tests from Veritox found traces of lead in the two decommissioned compressors, but the area near where the bottles were filled was not tested.

Marler said Thursday that with the news the air packs are clean, further testing on the previous compressors wouldn’t be necessary, since they’re being replaced outright.

“Everything downwind has proven to be non-toxic,” he said. “It just seemed like a waste of money.”

Schaeffer said Thursday the odor that was originally reported to the department may never be determined, but it was likely caused by the filtration system.

“But what we do know is there are zero contaminants that could have contributed to the health and safety of our employees,” he said. “As the administrator, I’m happy with the result.”