Family of late Fairmont school custodian seeks Legionnaires answers

The son of the Kettering Fairmont High School custodian who died last year of Legionnaires’ disease says his family wants more information about how his otherwise healthy father contracted it.

Jason Chaffin, the son of Casey Chaffin, said his father was kind-hearted and got along with everyone.

“He was an incredible person, someone that all his peers, everyone at work, loved him,” Jason Chaffin said of his father. “He was a sports-minded person; He ate, slept and breathed Dayton Flyer basketball and was always talking about it.”

His son said Casey Chaffin worked in the school district for more than 20 years and was the head custodian at Fairmont when he became sick.

Jason Chaffin said his father lived happily before he was taken to the hospital. He was intubated for 18 days before he died. He was 62.

2019 Kettering Fairmont custodian death also linked to Legionella

And right now, Jason Chaffin says, there are more questions than answers about how his father got sick.

“The best-case scenario to us is being able to understand how he got it and take that question out of our mind,” Jason Chaffin said. “It’s something that we’ve grappled with for the past year and it’s still something we are searching to figure out how he got it.”

Kettering City Schools are disinfecting the water system at Fairmont after an employee recently was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease and Legionella bacteria were found in four water samples in the building.

A spokeswoman for the school confirmed that one of the four positive tests for Legionella bacteria this summer came from the custodian office bathroom sink, just west of the cafeteria. A current custodian tested positive for Legionnaires Disease in the past month.

Coronavirus: Area schools await local public health guidance before reopening

The school district is working with Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County and with Solid Blend Water Management Solutions to disinfect all water systems within the 2,300-student school. That process began after a current custodian tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionella commonly occurs in “multiple locations and multiple water systems,” said Dan Suffoletto, public information supervisor the health department.

“However, we want to make it known that you cannot tell where a person contracted Legionnaires’ disease from. The bacteria occur at decorative fountains, hot tubs, showers … and it’s naturally occurring in a lot of places,” he said.

“You may be coming in contact with it at a lot of places, and it just affects people who have a weakened immune system more,” Suffoletto said.

Fairmont HS disinfects water after positive test, Legionnaires’ case

Smokers, people who have asthma and/or COPD could be impacted “greatly” by Legionella, he said. Jason Chaffin said his father smoked — but was limiting it over the last year of his life.

Five Legionnaires’ disease deaths were reported to Public Health from 2007-18. Since 2019, four deaths have been reported to the agency, the last being in February 2020, Suffoletto said.

The only case associated with Kettering was the 2019 death, he said.

“Three (deaths) in 2019 would be considered – going by those numbers – high. Three in one year would be unusual,” he said.

“But I don’t know all of the circumstances behind those other situations and what pre-existing conditions those people may have been under at that time,” Suffoletto said.

Those who died may have come in contact with Legionella in “multiple places,” he noted.

Public Health has not issued an advisory on Legionella, in part because “it’s always been a threat … so I don’t think we can directly say why it spiked in 2019” with three deaths, Suffoletto said.

Legionella, he added, is “tricky because of the way it is contracted and the fact that it is found in multiple locations and multiple water systems and it is a naturally occurring situation within those water systems.”

The issue at Fairmont High School was discovered after investigating potential areas at the request of the Ohio Department of Health, Suffoletto said.

About the Authors