Gowen Field firefighter sues over contractor chemical exposure

Sean Olson//April 9, 2013

Gowen Field firefighter sues over contractor chemical exposure

Sean Olson//April 9, 2013

A Southwest Airlines jet lands at Boise Airport, also known as Gowen Field. File photo.

A former firefighter at Gowen Field in Boise is suing contractors, the National Guard and his own fire chief after a reflooring project allegedly exposed him and his crew to chemical irritants.

Jay Hamann filed the lawsuit Jan. 17 in Ada County district court, but it was sent to the Idaho district of federal court in March. It alleges that a series of negligent actions by the contractors and the fire chief in April 2011 caused Hamann to inhale a large dose of chemicals used on the floor of the station, which in turn caused him to develop a medical condition similar to asthma, court records show.

“As a direct result of (the contractors’) negligence, (Hamann) suffered a singular, high-dosed chemical irritant exposure and was diagnosed with reactive airways dysfunction syndrome,” the lawsuit states.

In responses filed in district court, the general contractor of the project, Northcon Inc., and the subcontractor that actually mixed the chemicals for the project, Hamilton & Spear Painting, both indicated that they would argue, among other things, that Hamann was negligent in exposing himself to the chemicals.

Hamann alleges in his lawsuit that he tried to air out the building when the chemicals – which are not described in court documents – were being mixed. Hamilton & Spear employees told him to close the doors because the work required a closed environment, the lawsuit claims.

After Hamann and his crew returned from a call, the station had “an atmosphere that was unbearable and very difficult to breathe,” the lawsuit states.

“The conditions caused symptoms of burning eyes, burning lungs, runny nose and mental confusion,” it states.

Gowen Field’s fire chief, William Mattravers, told Hamann that the chemicals were nontoxic and that it should be safe for firefighters to be in the building, the lawsuit alleges.

“(Hamann) had previously requested to relocate the fire department personnel during the re-flooring project to avoid any problem with the smell of the chemicals used during the project,” the lawsuit states. “Fire Chief Mattravers again assured (Hamann) that there was no need to relocate since the chemicals being used for the project were totally safe.”

Hamann then spent an hour in the station writing a report on the call the firefighters had taken that day before two staff sergeants returned to the station, looked at the chemical components in cans left in the station and quarantined the area, it states.

Reactive airway dysfunction syndrome is similar to asthma and is caused by inhalation of high doses of chemicals. It can heal but often takes months or, in rare cases, a lifetime.

Hamann no longer works for Gowen Field, according to one of his attorneys. There are no allegations in the lawsuit that he lost his job as a direct result of the lawsuit or the exposure.

Hamann names Northcon, Hamilton & Spears, Wall 2 Wall Floorcovering, the state of Idaho’s military division, the Idaho Army National Guard, Gowen Field Fire and Crash Rescue, and the fire chief as defendants, alleging they were all negligent in some way.

He is asking for his medical expenses to be paid for, lost wages to be reimbursed and attorney fees. The lawsuit also indicates it might ask for punitive damages in the future.