By Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Firefighters Union President Joe Schulle says pictures from several firehouses around the city show firefighters and medics are facing health risks from deteriorating conditions.
The pictures, provided to CBS 3, show raw sewage flooding the basement of Engine Co. 54 in Overbrook for several days this week, and sewage coming through sinks and showers at Engine Company 7 in Kensington. The union maintains their pictures also show where sewage has repeatedly filled the basement recreation area at Engine Company 9 in Germantown, forcing firefighters to put a sump pump into the shower. Similar pictures, provided by Local 22, show paint peeling from ceilings and an electrical fixture at Engine 45 in North Philadelphia.
Schulle says many of the problems have occurred repeatedly for years and he hopes to work with the city to develop a strategy to deal with the maintenance issues. He adds that, with the sewage, just breathing the air in some stations might have long-term impacts for firefighters.
The union credits the city with taking prompt action to clean up the latest sewage overflow at Engine 54 after it was reported, but says there are concerns about ongoing problems at more than 6 other Philadelphia firehouses.
Responding to inquiries from the CBS 3 I-Team, the Mayor’s Press Secretary issued an emailed statement reading, in part, “The Administration absolutely rejects as false the union boss’ assertion that Public Property ignores or acts slowly to correct issues. One has only to look at the odor situation in the Roxborough area (where the city shut down Engine Company 66 3 minutes after receiving a report of chemical fumes on December 17) to see how quickly we respond. PP (Public Property Department) uses approved methods to disinfect and the idea that there is a systemic problem here is also absurd.”
The statement continues, “There are many aged facilities within the PFD inventory of stations. We are unable to upgrade or build all new stations in one fell swoop. But we are investing in improvements and we have a strong maintenance program.”
The city also provided an extensive list of improvements to 36 fire facilities, along with an investment of more than $10 million, over the past two years.
Union officials claim, too often, firefighters clean up the sewage, and tolerate other conditions, at risk to themselves. The Union also states that even when repairs are made, stations are not fully cleaned, leaving potentially dangerous pollution behind.