Rescue workers searching for survivors of the deadly condo tower collapse in Florida face health risks similar to those faced by first responders following the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said Friday.
Von Essen, who was in command of the FDNY on 9/11, told CNN that fires burning in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, near Miami Beach, were probably being fueled by propane, gasoline in parked cars and other dangerous substances.
“You just don’t know what’s … in that smoke that’s coming out,” he said.
“There’s just so many things you don’t know what you’re breathing in.”
Von Essen said he noticed that most of the emergency workers in Florida “don’t have masks on.”
“Some of them are in areas where they don’t smell anything, I guess there are no fumes coming out,” he said.
“Those that are on top of anything that’s leaking really needs to mask up.”
Von Essen compared the situation to that faced by the first responders who mounted search and recovery efforts at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan following the Sept. 11 terror attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
“We’ve got firefighters dying today, 20 years later,” he said.
Florida state Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis has said fires were hampering efforts to search for survivors and that more blazes were likely to erupt amid the wreckage.
“You get a lot of lithium-ion batteries and other combustible materials that eventually they will catch to a point where they will ignite,” he said.
During an afternoon news conference in Surfside, Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said that officials were aware of the health risks to rescue workers and had taken steps to address them.
“We have air respirators that we use when we’re definitely underneath [the rubble] and we’re doing certain components,” he said.
“We bring in vent fans, so we definitely try to circulate [the air].”
Cominsky also noted that there’s “minimal space” amid the rubble, “so, when we find a void space and we find different opportunities, we definitely will try to circulate air through there to assist with that.”