Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Firefighter Dad Exposed to Asbestos

June 25, 2013

San Jose, CA “I filed an asbestos claim with LawyersandSettlements because I believe everyone should know the risks our firefighters take,” says Sheri, whose fireman father (pictured) died of lung cancer. “I’m not looking for compensation - something should be done because even young firefighters are getting diagnosed with asbestosis and mesothelioma.

“I really loved me dad so I guess I am also doing this for him,” says Sheri, crying. “Firefighters get cancer at twice the rate of everyone else. I know that these days they have better safety equipment than back in the day when my dad was a fireman, but asbestos could still be on their clothes. And they could still bring asbestos fibers home with them. I’ve done a lot of research online and all too often read about men in their 40s and 50s diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestosis as a direct result of their job. What else could it be?”

Sheri’s dad began working for the Milpitas Fire Department back in 1964, at a time when asbestos exposure wasn’t a concern. As well, back in the 1960s, firefighters didn’t have the breathing apparatus and safety equipment that is worn today.

“My dad worked for the City of Milpitas until 1992, and during those years, he put out countless fires in houses that contained asbestos,” Sheri says. “I believe that breathing asbestos fibers was unavoidable, and I believe that asbestos caused his lung cancer. My dad didn’t smoke and nobody in his family had cancer.

“It was around New Years, 1997, when I noticed something was wrong with Dad. He was usually outgoing and the center of attention but this time was different. We were at a family party and I found him outside just staring into space. I asked him what he was doing and he just said it was too noisy inside. But it was like someone else was talking to me.

“A few days later my grandma slipped and fell and dad drove her to hospital. Dad couldn’t find the keys to the car when they left. He eventually found them but got lost driving home. When they finally got home, he tripped and this time he wound up in hospital. That is when they found the cancer and it had gone to his brain. They tried to operate but were unable to remove the tumor. Dad died on March 5, 1998.

“I was researching asbestos and saw how prevalent it is with firefighters - so many have succumbed to lung cancer. I read how chemicals are still in the air even after the fire has been extinguished. My dad’s Captain of the fire department, Ed Epple, also died from lung cancer.”

It really is tragic that as a consequence of our firefighters saving lives they can lose their lives from exposure to asbestos. Not only was safety gear often non-existent decades ago, but from the 1930s through the 1970s, firefighter uniforms, including helmets, coats, pants and boots, contained asbestos - because it could withstand high heat. The Mesothelioma Center says that some protective firefighter clothing still contains asbestos, albeit in smaller quantities than in the past.

As of 2011, there were 1.1 million firefighters in the United States: 344,050 paid firefighters and 756,400 volunteers. It is not known how many have passed away from asbestos-related diseases, but in 2010, the William Dallas Jones Cancer Presumption Act, or AB 2253, began a review with the hopes that the previous statute of limitations pertaining to firefighter cancers will be expanded. The AB 2253 bill “seeks to expand the existing statute of limitations in a manner that more accurately reflects the increased risk to firefighters and other public safety personnel by those types of job-related cancers.”

Photo: Sheri's Dad, George Rohrbache