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Detroit — The city's fire union is asking a judge to halt newly codified rules that direct firefighters to clean up blood and bodily fluids at accident and medical scenes. 

The Detroit Fire Fighter Association is asking a Wayne County Circuit judge to grant an injunction to halt the practice until an unfair labor complaint is resolved.

The union, in its Thursday lawsuit, argues the regulations could expose crews to HIV, hepatitis or other blood-borne pathogens and pose an "imminent" risk to the health and safety of workers and the public. But fire administration countered that while the policy wasn't in writing before, it's not new. 

Detroit Fire Fighter Association President Mike Nevin said the policy is a "safety hazard" that was "poorly imposed" by management without consulting the union. 

"They've had a few of these runs where they are just blasting blood everywhere. I hope they don't get any in their eyes and mouth," Nevin said. "This is a completely different line of work than we're used to."

Detroit's fire administration this month issued a written "Bodily Fluid Aftermath Cleanup" policy that says fire personnel involved with medical response must ensure cleanup of blood and other bodily fluids at any and all accident scenes, medical first responder runs, and other incidents, as requested by police. 

But Chief of Department Robert Distelrath countered that the policy has been the standard practice. It just hadn't been formalized in writing, he said. 

"We're evolving to a modern fire department and we're developing policies, getting them in writing, it's a process," he said. "You can't have every action that's taken written down. When there was a request for clarification from the field, we felt it was right to issue a specific policy."

The department, the administration noted, is medically licensed and its members are authorized to perform a "washdown" to remove bodily fluids from the public view on public streets and thoroughfares. The process, the administration said in a provided statement, uses "many gallons of water to dilute bodily fluids, thereby removing them from public access."

All emergency responders, the administration adds, have been issued protective clothing and gear and have received blood-borne pathogens training, as mandated by the state. 

But Nevin countered that members have not had any hands-on physical training "for any of this." The department, he said, would need a specialized division.

"You want to add another layer of cleanup," he said. "That's completely different than our job description."

The union, in its court filing, contends the policy was approved by top management, without bargaining or consideration by the labor-managed Health and Safety Committee.

Distelrath maintained that while it may not have been in writing, "members have been doing these tasks."

The policy also requires that blood and bodily fluids be diluted and flushed down sewer drains. They also are required to collect "bloody clothing" and unspecified "materials" and transport them in bio-bags to certain firehouses to be picked up by professionals, the Thursday complaint notes. 

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said the law department is preparing its response to the filing and that the union's position is "without merit."

"Detroit firefighters have done this kind of activity as part of their work for decades, and they have been properly trained and equipped to do it," he said. "The only thing new is that this accepted and long-standing practice has been formalized in a policy."

A hearing is set for April 5. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com

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