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Palmview shut down fire department building amid concerns about mold

This article originally appeared in the Friday Oct. 25, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

Problems with mold forced the Palmview Fire Department to shut down Fire Station #1 in April.

Six months later, the station — which is adjacent to City Hall — remains uninhabitable. When the city will either decontaminate or demolish the station remains unclear.

City of Palmview Logo“The City of Palmview takes matters such as these very seriously as the health and safety of City Personnel is our number one priority,” according to a statement released by City Attorney Eric Flores. “The City will continue to take any and all necessary steps to ensure our firefighters are safe so that we may continue to serve our residents with the utmost care. Additionally, the City of Palmview will continue their diligent efforts to secure additional funds to build a fire station our hardworking firefighters deserve.”

Fire Chief Jerry Alaniz had concerns about Fire Station #1 as far back as June 2014, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.

“We are in need of replacing or repairing the roof at the fire station,” Alaniz wrote to then-Fire Marshal Severo Ochoa on June 6, 2014. “Every time it rains we are having to place buckets all over the station. Water damage is clearly visible throughout the station.”

Alaniz asked Ochoa to discuss the problem with then-police Chief Chris Barrera. What, if anything, happened as a result of the memo remains unclear.

When the Progress Times contacted Alaniz and City Manager Michael Leo on Wednesday, the city attorney responded with a written statement.

Alaniz wrote another memo to Ochoa in August 2015, asking him if Barrera or then-City Manager Ramon Segovia wanted to discuss the problem.

“It is worse and worse every time it rains,” Alaniz wrote to Ochoa on Aug. 8, 2015. “If we don’t remedy this the problem will continue to get worse, and may be more expensive.”

Concerns about the building became a crisis in February 2019, when firefighters signed a letter to Alaniz warning about potential health problems.

“Recently firefighters have been having trouble sleeping with allergic reactions when dorming at the firehouse or just being inside the lobby area,” according to the letter, which is signed by three fire department captains. “Some firefighters had to start taking medication and other precautions to protect themselves.”

The letter listed five major concerns, including the leaky roof, which left marks on the ceiling; mold under the kitchen sink, in firefighter dorms, throughout the air conditioning system and in the captain’s office; plumbing problems in the kitchen and restroom; and pieces of the ceiling that had started falling.

“Staff also has had the idea of relocating our central station until further notice for Dorming purposes to station number two,” according to the letter. “We would really appreciate if you would take that into consideration or to resolve the problem for the meantime for the wellbeing of our health.”

The bottom of the letter is covered in signatures.

“Upon receiving the letter, the City immediately began to strategize and formulate a plan to ensure these firemen and firewomen were working in a safe environment,” according to the statement released by the city. “This plan included securing additional space and renovating the alternate location to ensure the new location met the needs of these hard-working individuals.”

Palmview hired Hutto, Texas-based National Mold Advisor to conduct testing. It found mold throughout the building.

“The occupants of the building should not be permitted to work in this environment with the genus of molds found inside the building,” according to a 21-page report prepared by the company.

The report also identified two types of mold, Fusarium and Stachybotrys, that posed serious health problems.

After National Mold Advisor completed the initial assessment on April 23, the city manager asked firefighters to vacate the building.

“All shift personnel living quarters will be moved to the portable building,” Leo wrote in a memo to Alaniz on April 24. “It will serve as a temporary fire station and living quarters until the final long term plan of action is finalized.”

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