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Firefighter Asbestos Exposure

Firefighters are heroes who risk their lives to save others, but the dangers of their jobs do not cease when the fire goes out. Firefighters exposed to asbestos may develop mesothelioma or other related illnesses 10 to 40 years later. These brave men and women may be entitled to substantial compensation.

Legally Reviewed By: Maura Kolb
Managing Attorney | Asbestos Trust Funds & Resolution

Maura Kolb

Legally Reviewed By: Maura Kolb
Managing Attorney | Asbestos Trust Funds & Resolution

Building Materials That Contain Asbestos

Both friable and non-friable forms of asbestos were used in residential and commercial building applications, resulting in high levels of exposure to first responders, especially firefighters.

Friable asbestos is asbestos that can become airborne with hand pressure. Non-friable asbestos is asbestos that is somehow encapsulated, such as asbestos found in cement; it does not easily become airborne, except through sanding, drilling, and wearing processes. Friable asbestos is considered more dangerous.

During a fire, the distinction between friable and non-friable forms of asbestos becomes less important because non-friable asbestos can become friable as the material within which it is encased is burned or otherwise broken down.

According to Asbestos 123, an asbestos testing and screening service, older buildings typically include these types of friable and non-friable asbestos:


  • Hot water pipe lagging
  • Stove and domestic heater linings
  • Spray-on ceiling treatments (such as popcorn ceilings)
  • Vermiculite attic insulation
  • The backing of sheet vinyl tiles or linoleum flooring
  • Boiler insulation


  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Drywall
  • Cement pipes
  • Corrugated cement sheeting
  • Siding
  • Ceiling tiles

Firefighter Asbestos-Related Illnesses

The following illnesses are known to result from asbestos exposure:

How can I prevent asbestos exposure as a firefighter?

Previous generations of fire suits were made with asbestos, increasing the risks to firefighters. Modern personal protective equipment (PPE) is designed to protect firefighters from asbestos exposure.

Modern-day PPE is asbestos free, including fire suits, boots, gloves, and headgear, and the self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) prevent firefighters from inhaling asbestos fibers. However, certain human elements can undermine the protection PPE and SCBAs offer.

The following measures can reduce or eliminate your asbestos exposure.

Leave PPE in Place

Many firefighters remove their SCBAs while still on the scene and inside the building, unknowingly being exposed to harmful toxins.

Decontaminate Before Going Home

According to a study conducted by NIOSH, as much soot and particulate matter as possible should be removed immediately following a fire and before returning to the fire station. Contaminated PPE and clothing should be removed and cleaned at the fire station. Each firefighter should also shower prior to leaving the firehouse.

PPE should be thoroughly cleaned at the fire station and stored in dedicated storage areas rather than at home. Bringing contaminated clothing to your home could cause asbestos fibers to be released into your home, resulting in exposure to yourself and your family.

Who is liable if I have been exposed to asbestos in the line of duty?

Determining liability after exposure to asbestos in a fire is not always straightforward. Some jurisdictions stilladhere to an old common law doctrine known as the “firefighter’s rule.” This doctrine holds that firefighters do not have the right to sue for harm that comes to them during fires because they voluntarily assume those risks.

While this doctrine limits some scenarios, it does not entirely eliminate the right to sue a negligent property owner or other parties in all circumstances. Several states have done away with this doctrine, and there may be other liable parties, such as:

  • The city, county, or other government entity
  • The building owner
  • The contractor
  • The asbestos manufacturer
  • A foreign government (in cases of terrorism)

Our mesothelioma attorneys have over 25 years of experience identifying liable parties for individuals harmed by asbestos exposure, and we can help you identify liable parties in your case.

burning building

How much compensation can firefighters recover
for asbestos-related illnesses?

The types of compensation available will vary based on the type of claim.

Workers’ Compensation

Firefighters are often covered by workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program purchased by employers to provide medical care and partial wage replacement to workers who sustain an injury during the line of duty. Death benefits may also be available. Workers’ compensation claims are typically filed through the employer.

In most cases, the employer is a city or other government agency. Some states require employers, including government entities, to purchase workers’ compensation. However, volunteer firefighters may not qualify for workers’ compensation; certain states require employers to cover volunteer firefighters, while others may make coverage optional.

For example, the Golden State Risk Management Authority allows agencies to classify volunteer firefighters as employees in California for workers’ compensation purposes.

Employees eligible for workers’ compensation generally may not file any other type of claim against the employer. However, you may be able to file a civil claim against another party. If workers’ compensation does not cover you, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the employer.

Civil Lawsuits

You may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit against a liable party on the grounds of negligence or strict liability. In negligence claims, you must prove that your injuries result from the other party failing to exercise the level of care that would be considered reasonable under the circumstances.

In claims against an asbestos manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, you may have a strict liability claim, which allows you to seek damages because a product is inherently harmful.

In a personal injury lawsuit, you may be able to claim the following types of damages:

In the event that a loved one has passed away as a result of asbestos exposure, the immediate family members or a personal representative may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In a wrongful death lawsuit, you can claim similar damages, plus the following:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Pecuniary losses (the total projected lost earnings and other income stemming from the death)

9/11 Firefighter Asbestos Exposure

The death toll from the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, has not been finalized because its effects on first responders and individuals living and working in the surrounding areas have yet been concluded.

Immediately following the attack and the resulting collapse of the buildings, a plume of dust consisting of 1.2 million tons of building materials and toxic gasses from the fire created by thousands of gallons of jet fuel filled the air in the immediate vicinity and surrounding neighborhoods, according to the National Resource Defense Council.

This dust plume consisted of hazardous substances, including dioxins, mercury, dust, fiberglass, pulverized cement, and, among other deadly toxins, 300 to 400 tons of asbestos from just the north tower. The cloud drifted and hung over the area for more than three months after the attacks. Many individuals and first responders were covered in dust as they undertook the massive rescue, fire extinguishment, and cleanup efforts.

According to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, as of September 2018, more than 2,000 individuals had died from various cancers due to these toxic exposures. We are only now entering the period when widespread cases of mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure at the World Trade Center would be expected.

World Trade Center Health Program

The Associated Press reported that 111,000 people were enrolled in the program as of September 10, 2021, with more individuals continuing to come forward.

Under this law, during the specified periods, first responders and individuals living or working in the danger zones surrounding the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania crash site receive free health monitoring and treatment for health conditions associated with toxic exposures.

Victim Compensation Fund

H.R. 1327 was signed into law on July 29, 2019, allowing individuals who have fallen ill or lost loved ones as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to file a claim for economic and non-economic damages until October 1, 2090.

Lawsuit Options for 9/11 Victims

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act provides civil remedies against foreign countries that aid and abet terrorism. These claims must be filed in federal court.

When should I contact a mesothelioma attorney?

Every jurisdiction limits the time individuals with mesothelioma, or other asbestos-related illnesses, have to file civil claims. The statute of limitations varies from one jurisdiction to the next but typically ranges from one to four years after diagnosis. However, it is crucial to contact a mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible.

Mesothelioma cases require extensive preparation because exposure is rarely limited to one source. Our mesothelioma attorneys at The Lanier Law Firm provide a detailed investigation into your exposure history to ensure every potential defendant is identified. This ensures your case is tried in the most advantageous venue and your compensation is maximized.

How can a mesothelioma lawyer help me with my firefighter asbestos exposure case?

The mesothelioma lawyers at The Lanier Law Firm can help you with the following:

  • Assistance with your workers’ compensation claim
  • Identifying liable parties
  • Filing your civil lawsuit ahead of the statute of limitations
  • Advising you of your access to all federal programs that may be available to you

Why should I choose The Lanier Law Firm?

Our mesothelioma attorneys are passionate about getting justice for clients and ensuring they recover deserved compensation. This will help you access any advances in medicine that are available while also providing financial security for you and your family. We have seen firsthand the devastating effects of asbestos-related illness and are eager to hold these companies accountable.

The Lanier Law Firm is one of the nation’s most experienced asbestos law firms. Our clients can expect to receive a caring, personalized approach accompanied by skilled and vigorous representation. Below are a few examples of the results we have achieved for our deserving asbestos-exposure clients:

  • $4.5 million for a construction worker with two years of joint compound exposure
  • $3.7 million for an 82-year-old widower with significant asbestos exposure while serving in the U.S. Navy
  • $115 million verdict on behalf of 21 steelworkers exposed to asbestos at an Alabama steel mill

With offices in California, New York, and Texas, our law firm accepts asbestos cases around the nation. We never charge fees upfront. You only pay if you win.

Our compassionate and dedicated legal team would be honored to represent you if you are a firefighter who has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness. However, the statute of limitations is short. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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