Mold Gone, Oregon Firefighters Moving Home

Updated: 12-07-2007 08:47:56 AM

The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)


GRESHAM --Months after they were chased out of their station by a mold invasion and into a trailer next door, Station 76's firefighters may be home for the holidays.

Multnomah County Fire District 10 and Gresham are putting the finishing touches on a joint fire station rehabilitation project launched in the spring after firefighters complained about health problems linked to mold.

A vaulted roof has replaced an old, flat roof, which leaked. The 40-year-old building has a new heating and ventilation system. Wiring is being brought up to code. And the station's interior has been, if not completely gutted, rid of moldy drywall, mildewed carpet and worn floor tiles while being spruced up with a new coat of paint.

"This station is already a lot warmer than it was before," said Gresham Fire Capt. Cindy Thompson during a tour of the building at Southeast 302nd Avenue and Dodge Park Boulevard. "It's made a huge difference."

Before the improvements, the cramped, single-story building --where three firefighters work 24-hour shifts --was associated with sinus complaints, upper respiratory problems and one particularly egregious incident where a pillow casually tossed on top of a locker was later found glued to the wall by mold.

The station, closed down on Feb. 20, was subsequently tested by experts, who found elevated levels of mold, in some cases three to 17 times the level found in outside air. They stopped short of calling it a health hazard, but Mike McKeel, the district's board chairman, said last week, "It was not the kind of place I'd like to spend the day working."

Since then, firefighters have worked out of a mobile command trailer parked on the site or a single-wide trailer that later replaced it. The fire engine has remained parked in the station's service bay.

The results of additional air and surface tests were expected this week.

Gresham Fire Chief Scott Lewis called the fire crew that endured months of upheaval "real troupers." They "really worked through the problem and made the best of it," he said. While the building is still confined and its location less than ideal, Lewis said the remodeling makes it better suited to meet immediate needs.

"I think they are anxious to get back in," Lewis said, noting that the station provides more privacy.

The fire district, which serves about 8,000 residents in unincorporated areas of the county, owns the building and is responsible for large improvements to it. It shared rehabilitation costs with Gresham, which staffs the station under a contract with the district and handles routine maintenance.

The city spent about $11,000, according to David Brugato, city facilities manager. The district invested between $80,000 and $85,000, McKeel said, significantly more than it had initially planned. But McKeel said it made sense to spend $30,000 on a vaulted roof --sage green at his request --instead of replacing it with another leak-prone flat roof, especially because the station will likely remain in use at least several years more.

"Obviously, it's going to have a very positive impact," Brugato said. "With a new roof and HVAC, there's going to be a lot less potential for a mold problem."

Firefighters, still living and working in the single-wide, will get a firm move-in date once the station's electrical power and communication systems are restored, and final air-quality tests come back clear, most likely by midmonth, city officials said.

That leaves McKeel, a developer known for his attention to design details, free to worry about other things.

Like the station's lighting.

"I hate fluorescent lighting," he said standing in the yellow-green glow of the kitchen, and said he will seriously consider donating some designer fixtures.

Robin Franzen: 503-294-5943;