OCALA, Fla. (WOGX FOX 51) - Firefighter Shawn Beam has a dangerous job, but he’s not scared of fire. He’s scared of the danger that could be lurking in his own fire station. He says mold covers the ceiling and he’s breathing it in daily
“This is the attic space. It’s above the living quarters. If you get down, you can see underneath all the stuff growing under.
I’m a firefighter so I'm already going to have a shorter lifespan than most people. I don't want this to make it even shorter,” said firefighter Shawn Beam.
He says the mold in this building is making him and other firefighters here sick.
“Itching, burning eyes, runny noses, bloody noses.”
Shawn first started complaining about condensation in Station 17’s attic back in 2015. He sent emails to his supervisor and to the head of the Union. In 2016, the Marion County Facilities Department hired an outside company to do a mold assessment.
“This is not mold that’s dangerous to anyone’s health,” said Marion County spokesperson Nick Zoller.
But Shawn Beam went to the doctor and tested positive for several kinds of mold in his blood. A second firefighter sent us his medical records too, showing mold in his blood. He shared with us a note from his doctor, saying “mold allergies – transfer to another station for improvement of symptoms.”
“You live on sinus medicine. and that's what we've been doing is live on sinus medicine,” said Beam.
The county says it changed out the air conditioning units and broken ceiling tiles, believed to be causing condensation. Earlier this year, the county spent $150,000 on a massive renovation of the building. But despite all that work, the mold still has not been removed.
The county insists the building is safe.
“We did an additional test during that renovation and after to make sure that the space was inhabitable,” said Marion County Facilities Manager Jared Goodspeed.
“If these guys are complaining about their health, isn't that a sign that there is some kind of negative health impact?” we asked.
“I don't speak to the health of the individuals. I only maintain the building,” said Goodspeed.
When we asked Jared Goodspeed, the county facilities manager, why that mold hadn’t been removed yet, he told us, “They recommend that the outside air temperature is below 85 degrees and that there's not going to be rain for two days while we do that. So that's scheduled for December.”
December is eight months after the last inspection and almost four years after Shawn Beam first complained.
“Does that seem like a long time to you?” we asked.
“Well I don't control the weather,” said Goodspeed.
County Fire Chief James Banta insists the station is safe for his men and women.
“I have to trust in the professionals that deal in this, facilities management and the tests that they run and the tests that they've run over the last few years,” said Chief Banta.
The county confirms seven out of the 17 firefighters who work at Station 17 have requested transfers out of the station, including Shawn Beam. Three of them have been transferred out, but not Shawn.
“This is 17. It's my home. I've been the longest here. I want to finish here. I don't want to transfer anywhere else. But I don't want to keep getting sick every time I come to work.”
We spoke with an independent mold expert, who says people respond differently to mold exposure. He says something that doesn’t register on the scale as a dangerous mold can still cause reactions in some people.
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