Gresham fire station closes due to high radon exposure concerns

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Gresham Fire Department is immediately closing its Station 75 in Troutdale on Thursday over concerns of radon exposure, the city confirmed to KOIN 6 News.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the United States after cigarette smoke, according to the CDC.

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A City of Gresham spokesperson told KOIN 6 News the firefighters at the station are being relocated to other stations until radon mitigation measures are installed, which will take an estimated one to two weeks.

Gresham Fire Captain Travis Soles told KOIN 6 News he alerted OSHA to measure radon exposure after he says he tried to get fire department and city leadership to take action in previous years, but the tipping point came after a cancer death in November 2023 — the second such death of the year.

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Soles told KOIN 6 News that in his 23-year career, five of the seven to eight cancer deaths he has seen of his fellow firefighters had been members working out of Station 75.

OSHA arrived at the station to start testing on Jan. 12 and completed its testing on Jan. 16, Soles said, who added the report is due by the end of January. However, Soles says a radon testing company supervised by OSHA found readings of 13.7.

Local 1062 Gresham Firefighter’s Union President Kevin Larson noted to KOIN 6 News a reading of 4 or more is considered dangerous.

“We’ve been having a higher than normal — seems like cancer — in our department and a lot of contributions to that,” Larson said. “But our most recent firefighter was from that station that passed away.  So when this came test came up, obviously it piqued a lot of our firefighters’ worries and their wives’ worries.  And I think that we want to be there for the community and we want to provide great customer service and great fire protection, just as the city does. But we also need to keep our firefighters safe.”

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The radon has no smell, color or taste. Though the readings were three times higher than what’s considered acceptable, it has not been confirmed as of now that the radon at Station 75 has contributed to any deaths.

According to Scott Lewis, the Gresham Fire Department fire chief, another station dealt with radon problems in the past.

“We don’t want them to be afraid to come to work and be ready to take care of whatever the day demands,” Lewis said.

“Our facilities is where we live. A third of our life,” Larson added. “You would not want to live at some of the conditions that we have without some of the issues being taken care of.”

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Gresham city leaders held an emergency meeting late Thursday morning to discuss next steps, ultimately deciding the station should close. Firefighters who previously worked at Station 75 will be moved to Station 74, officials said.

“They deserve everything that we can do to make them feel safe when they’re working and living in their stations,” Steve Fancher, the City of Gresham’s assistant city manager, told KOIN 6 News.

So what’s next for Station 75? Lewis said that will likely involve construction work to increase ventilation in the building by way of drilling a hole to route PVC pipes that can capture the gases under the concrete and release them “higher in the atmosphere above the roof.”

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In terms of response times, Lewis said the number of resources will not change for the fire departments. However, he noted that “If you’re further away, it’s gonna take you longer to get there.”

However, Lewis advised people who are in an emergency to “call 911 dispatch and this will take care of getting the right people to the right call at the right time.”

Moving forward, Lewis said it’s imperative that fire stations complete testing “every two years to make sure whatever processes you put in place are still working.” He said that includes putting in “more ventilation systems in our older buildings to make sure that vehicle exhaust is exhausting out of the building.”

Another round of tests for radon levels will be conducted at Station 75 on Monday.

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