Orlando Firefighters Exposed to Asbestos Were Not Warned

Asbestos Exposure & Bans
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 02/12/2016
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.

Asbestos.com is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


"My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family."
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite Asbestos.com’s Article


Swantek, B. (2020, October 16). Orlando Firefighters Exposed to Asbestos Were Not Warned. Asbestos.com. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://www.asbestos.com/news/2016/02/12/orlando-firefighters-exposed-to-asbestos-were-not-warned/


Swantek, Beth. "Orlando Firefighters Exposed to Asbestos Were Not Warned." Asbestos.com, 16 Oct 2020, https://www.asbestos.com/news/2016/02/12/orlando-firefighters-exposed-to-asbestos-were-not-warned/.


Swantek, Beth. "Orlando Firefighters Exposed to Asbestos Were Not Warned." Asbestos.com. Last modified October 16, 2020. https://www.asbestos.com/news/2016/02/12/orlando-firefighters-exposed-to-asbestos-were-not-warned/.

More than a dozen Orlando firefighters were exposed to asbestos earlier this month because their supervisors failed to warn them of the known dangers.

The families of many of those firefighters worry secondhand exposure to the deadly mineral could place them at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

“It’s everywhere, you know?” said Andrea Donohoe, wife of one of the Orlando Fire Department firefighters exposed to asbestos. “Our baby is riding in his car. I was riding in his car. We’re all now exposed to asbestos.”

Her husband, Anthony Donohoe, and more than a dozen other firefighters were exposed to the carcinogen while removing flooring from an abandoned apartment building the fire department had planned to use for training.

“We were scraping on our hands and knees,” Donohoe told WFTV-Channel 9. “I know you’re supposed to wear suits and respirators, and we didn’t have any of that. We were out there in plain clothes.”

Federal law states that only trained and licensed professionals can remove asbestos in a building and dispose of it properly. Firefighters are generally not licensed to remove asbestos.

Floor tiles and other asbestos-containing building materials pose no harm if left alone. But if these items are disturbed, they release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. When inhaled, the needle-like fibers become lodged in the tissue surrounding the lungs, leading to the development of tumors decades later.

Fire Department Knew of Asbestos Danger

WFTV had obtained documents showing a pre-demolition survey from a Tampa company had confirmed the building contained asbestos, but fire department officials never warned firefighters, the news station reported.

One of the firefighters who removed the asbestos-containing floor tiles tipped off the local news station.

After news of the asbestos exposure broke, fire department officials ordered the firefighters off the site.

“We had a potential problem, and what we are doing is mitigating the problem,” Orlando Fire Department Chief Roderick Williams told WFTV. “We stopped training at the site, and we’ll launch an investigation internally within the city to look at best practices.”

The Orange County Environmental Protection also launched an investigation into the incident.

Williams said more than 400 firefighters had been in that building in the last two months, but about a dozen worked directly with the asbestos tiles.

Wayne Bernoska Jr., vice president of the Orlando Professional Firefighters union said he met with fire department officials to discuss the asbestos exposure.

“We are looking into finding out if anybody was exposed to harmful things out there, and right now, we are trying to get out in front of it,” Bernoska said.

Safety Procedures Will Change

Orlando city officials said they plan to change procedures for dealing with abandoned buildings that may contain hazardous materials.

“I think what we’re probably going to do is say, look, if a building is built before 1980, we’ll just assume that it has asbestos until somebody tells you that it doesn’t,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

Meeting Between City Officials and Union Yields Action

Orlando Professional Firefighters union President Ron Glass met with Dyer, Williams and other city officials to negotiate a plan moving forward.

“It dealt with doing annual physicals, doing air quality samples of the training site, in addition testing all the bunker gear that was used out there to see if there is any exposure on the gear itself,” Glass said.

Firefighters Are at a Higher Risk for Mesothelioma

Because of the nature of a firefighter’s job dealing with hazardous materials and chemicals in burning building, firefighters are at a higher risk of developing several cancers and other dangerous conditions.

A 2013 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study involving 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco found the rate of mesothelioma among those firefighters was twice that of the general U.S. population.

“Firefighters can be exposed to contaminants from fires that are known or suspected to cause cancer,” the study showed. “These contaminants include combustion by-products, such as benzene and formaldehyde, and materials in debris such as asbestos from older structures.”

For Andrea Donohoe, this hazard seemed unnecessary for her husband who wasn’t fighting a fire, but instead preparing a building for a training exercise.

According to the union, an occupational health doctor will meet with the affected firefighters to help them understand their risks and answer their questions.

Free Mesothelioma Resources
Get Access to Free Resources for Patients & Loved Ones