Monday, August 16, 2010

Smoking Gun In Lawsuits Against FDNY Over Ground Zero Exposures

Lawyers for firefighters and other emergency personnel who worked on the pile at Ground Zero following the collapse of the Twin Towers may have found the smoking gun that shows that the FDNY violated its own standing rules on providing respirators to the 11,200 workers who helped clear the site.
Lawyer Andrew Carboy, whose firm represents more than 600 firefighters, said the FDNY had rules on the book requiring Bravest be equipped with respirators before Sept. 11.

But memos showing that weren't handed over until this summer - in a data dump of 3 million documents - five years after the legal battle began. "They provide everyone with helmets, with bunker gear, with [air] packs. They could have done the same with respirators, and they withheld the documents saying they had a program to do it," Carboy said.

Carboy's firm represents Firefighters Frank Malone and the late Raymond Hauber, whose cases are among a dozen picked to go to trial, starting in May.

Four were chosen from more than 9,000 by a federal judge, four by the city, and four by plaintiffs' lawyers. More than $1 billion in damages hinge on the outcome.

To show the city is liable, Carboy plans to wield memos about the FDNY's "respiratory protection program," which was supposed to provide respirators for "reasonably foreseeable emergency situations" like building collapses.

The FDNY didn't follow its own guidelines and had only 600 respirators for more than 11,200 uniformed members when the twin towers fell Sept. 11, Carboy said.

A 2003 FDNY memo called for the head of safety and health for the department, Tennyson Headley, to be canned in part because of the dysfunctional respirator program. But Headley is still on the FDNY payroll.

In a Feb. 5 deposition, he admitted he didn't know the FDNY had a program until well after 9/11, or that he was responsible for making sure firefighters were trained to use the masks.

The city's lawyers deny the memo was hidden, saying documents about the program were "irrelevant" because a separate respirator policy was created for Ground Zero after the attacks.

On Sept. 11, the FDNY ordered 5,000 respirators for $20 to $25 each, court documents say.
This suit is proceeding all while the compensation package is stalled in Congress that would speed compensation to those who need it badly to deal with a myriad of ailments sustained in working in and around Ground Zero during the cleanup. Many have faulted the FDNY for not providing respirators and other devices to protect workers from exposure to all manner of toxic materials emitted into the air following the collapse and subsequent fires that raged for weeks thereafter.

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