Former firefighter says he can't wear a mask, wants governor to publicly address medical exemptions

Posted at 11:12 PM, Jul 17, 2020

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Some Coloradans have legitimate reasons for not wearing masks, and they worry they'll be labeled as selfish for something they have no control over.

Commerce City resident Brian Ginnow is one of them.

He says he inhaled toxic smoke while working as a firefighter in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

"I went to a dumpster fire and I breathed in a lung full of smoke that was heavy metal smoke," he said. "It was motorcycle parts that were burning."

The former firefighter, who said he has been diagnosed with autism, added that the smoke damaged his central nervous system and he now has a condition called dysautonomia, which causes heat intolerance.

"As you can see, I'm wearing an ice vest," he said, while unzipping and opening up an outer vest. "Even on 70 degree days, I have to wear the ice vest."

Ginnow told Denver7 that wearing a mask would make him pass out.

"Everytime I exhale, it would heat up that fabric, and every time I inhale, it would pull all that heat right back into my body," he said. "As much as I struggle without the mask, I would almost guarantee I'd be making a trip to the hospital by ambulance every time I went shopping, if I tried to wear one."

Mask maker

A seamstress in Lakewood, who sells homemade masks from her driveway, told Denver7 there are different types of masks, and that some are easier to wear than others.

"You can wear a single layer mask that allows you to breath," the seamstress said, "but...if you cough or something, it cuts down on the risk to other people."

The mask maker, who asked that we just use her first name, Mary, said she doesn't know Mr. Ginnow's circumstances, but does know there are some people who may claim medical exemptions simply because they don't want to wear a mask.

She said in some cases, it has to do with "rebellion." She recalled being rebellious herself at one point in life.

"When they made it a law to get seat belts, and I made every excuse not to wear it," she said, adding that seat belts are to protect the wearer, but masks are to protect other people.

"So to me it's very selfish if you don't wear a mask," she said.

"Abuse very frustrating"

Ginnow said it's "very frustrating" that some people abuse the medical exemption. He said he's grateful for people who are able to wear masks, and do.

The former firefighter told Denver7 there are some people who stare at him while shopping, because he's not wearing a mask.

He said heat intolerance is real, and so is mask shaming.

"I'm genuinely fearful that I'm going to get physically attacked," he said.

Ginnow choked up while recounting a recent trip to Walmart at 136th & I-25.

"They made the announcement that masks were required," he said. "Unlike most places, they acknowledged that there were medical exceptions and I was so grateful, and I'm so emotional."

Viewer feedback

Many viewers have weighed in, in support of, or in opposition to, the mask issue.

One wrote: "Telling us where we can go, how to behave. I hope we don't get used to living in a concentration camp."

Another wrote: "Bravo to our governor! It’s disheartening that wearing masks has to be mandated. People should simply just want to do the right thing and to do all we can for the sake of our health."

Counselor's letter

Ginnow said he carries a letter from his autism counselor asking that he be excused from wearing a mask.

"It's sad that I have to feel like I have to carry my medical records with me in order to defend myself," he said, adding he'd like the governor to publicly mention there are medical exceptions to his order.


According to the governor's order, those exemptions include:

-- Individuals ten (10) years old and younger; or
--Individuals who cannot medically tolerate a face covering.
-- Hearing-impaired or otherwise disabled or who are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or otherwise disabled and where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication.
-- Seated at a food service establishment.
-- Exercising alone or with others from the individual’s household, and a face covering would interfere with the activity.
-- Receiving a personal service where the temporary removal of the face-covering is necessary to perform the service.
-- Entering a business or receiving services and are asked to temporarily remove a face covering for identification purposes.
-- Are actively engaged in a public safety role such as law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel.
-- Officiating at a religious service.
-- Giving a speech for broadcast or an audience.