CFA welcomes Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report
The Hazelwood mine fire was one of the largest, longest-running and most complex fires in Victoria’s history – an extreme event that had a significant impact on the Morwell community.
The Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report, tabled in the Victorian Parliament yesterday, pays particular attention to the extreme conditions and complexity of the fire that started on 9 February and burned for 45 days.
The report contains 18 recommendations, 12 of which are directed to the State Government and which the Government has supported. The other 6 are directed to GDF Suez. We will work with relevant agencies to contribute to the recommendations relevant to CFA.
In its report, the Inquiry Board commended our firefighters who worked under difficult conditions to protect the mine assets and prevent the fire spreading. The Board also pays tribute to volunteer firefighters and other emergency services personnel who “went above and beyond what was expected of them throughout the course of this event.”
“That the CFA was able to develop and implement an effective suppression strategy and successfully extinguish the fire when it did, without interruption to Victoria’s power supply, is a tremendous achievement.”
Fire services supplied around 200 firefighting appliances and more than 7,000 emergency services personnel were involved in firefighting at the Hazelwood mine during February and March 2014. Firefighting personnel were drawn from the CFA, Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), Department of Environment Lands Water and Planning (DELWP), State Emergency Service, GDF Suez, Air Services Australia and fire services from other states and territories.
The Board also recognises the significant work of CFA to engage with the local community. The report commends Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley, CFA and other emergency services for their communication with the community during the fire. It attributes the effectiveness of this communication in part to an “established regard and respect for the CFA”.
There are always a number of important lessons to be learned from every incident. A number of improvements have been put in place following the Hazelwood mine fire to improve firefighter safety and better protect Victoria’s people and critical assets from large-scale incidents.
A key element of this will be the introduction of a new CFA District for the La Trobe municipality. The La Trobe Valley is home to key power infrastructure and associated industries and requires a specific level of fire and emergency management. Having a CFA District for the La Trobe Valley will ensure that the best resources, plans and preparedness are in place to manage risks and protect the state’s key assets.
CFA will begin immediate consultation with our brigades, and Gippsland members, as well as key agencies in the La Trobe Valley to discuss the formation of the new district.
This is just one of the many improvements being made in light of the lessons presented by the fire. While firefighter safety was top of mind during and after the fire, the Inquiry Report was critical of early firefighter exposure to carbon monoxide. Significant improvements have since been made for fire response management and firefighter safety.
Within 24 hours of the fire starting, CFA’s Health Support Team had commenced the establishment of a health monitoring program at Morwell that was of world class and the largest of its kind. The program operated over a period of 44 days, 24 hours a day, and more than 60,000 tests for carbon monoxide levels were conducted.
With other agencies, we have now agreed a standard operating procedure for the management of firefighter safety in open cut coal mines. The standard will ensure our firefighters work under the safest possible conditions. It includes a requirement for CFA firefighters to use atmospheric monitoring technology when entering mines, to warn them of the presence of carbon monoxide.
CFA is also working with Emergency Management Victoria and our partner agencies to develop a standard for managing carbon monoxide during large, extended or complex fires.
CFA welcomes the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report and looks forward to working with our partner agencies and the Government in developing the Government’s response to the report.
For more information and to read the full report, go to www.hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au
Mick Bourke, CEO and Euan Ferguson, Chief Officer