SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — Seminole County Fire Station 42 in Geneva is in the middle of a mold remediation, but only after 9 Investigates pushed for answers on behalf of concerned firefighters.
Photos of what appeared to be black mold were sent to 9 Investigates' Karla Ray two weeks ago.
The mold was discovered during a kitchen renovation at the fire station, but despite suspicions by firefighters that the mold could be dangerous, county staff simply removed the drywall and did not do any air quality assessments until days later.
County leaders told 9 Investigates that there was not an immediate concern that the mold was toxic, but tests prove the air quality is concerning enough for the county to bring in sleeping trailers from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office to the station.
Firefighters are not allowed inside the building during remediation and must sleep in the temporary trailer behind the building.
"The crews here knew there was likely going to be mold behind the cabinets, due to the leaks in the past," Seminole County Fire Union President Jon Divita said.
9 Investigates obtained records that show concerns about leaks and mold were well-documented.
Spring 2015 maintenance notes stated, "There is a roof leak in the kitchen. It is above the cabinets to the left of the sink. Water is running down into the cabinets down the doors onto the counter."
By December 2015, maintenance notes stated, "There is mold and wood rot that needs to be mitigated."
Months later, in summer 2016, notes show, "The mold behind the kitchen cabinets needs to be mitigated and the cabinets where the leak was are swollen." Despite all that, nothing was removed until the renovation this month.
Ray asked why the area wasn’t immediately closed off upon suspicion of black mold.
"Initially, they didn't necessarily suspect black mold. They knew it may look like it, but because (the drywall) was removed, and because it was in an enclosed area behind cabinets that were screwed and glued to the wall, they didn't have concerns,” county spokeswoman Tricia Johnson said.
Records show the air quality in the station wasn’t sampled until two days after the photos were taken and the drywall was removed. Results which proved the air quality was indeed compromised due to black mold weren’t returned for another four days -- almost a week after the renovation began.
“We have 19 fire stations, and the average age is 30 years, so certainly, this is something you deal with in Florida,” Johnson said.
Video taken by a firefighter shows that cabinet installation moved forward while testing was being done, and the area was not sealed off.
“It should be treated like our house, and the work should be done in an appropriate manner. They should've isolated the mold so it didn't spread out,” Divita said.
Firefighters will be in the temporary trailers until at least Monday of next week. That’s how long it will take contracted crews from ServPro to clean everything and do another air quality test.
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