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Has CFA adopted all the recommendations in full and will it action them in full?
CFA will arrange for an independent external audit of our response to the Professor Joy Report. An audit will maximize the confidence of the CFA Board and management that the identified issues have been addressed effectively. More importantly, an audit will give our people, stakeholders and the community, information and assurance that we are taking steps to rectify the problems found by Professor Joy.
The CFA Board will also establish a Board Committee for OHS&E that will include independent membership with relevant expertise. The Board will also include a Standing Item on the Board agenda’s relating to progress reports on implementation of the Report.
What changes to safety practices have you made?
The practice of using chemicals in live firefighting training ceased in 1996. Since the Linton Inquiry, our philosophy around operational safety has changed dramatically through our Safety First program. We have introduced minimum skills, which completely changed our training regime. We have also made significant safety improvements to our equipment (ie retrofitting our trucks for burnovers, vehicle design, and spray systems). The result of this is that our injury reports have decreased as a result. However, there is still more work to be done in the support arm of CFA, particularly in the area of environmental care.
Who is to blame for the past practices at Fiskville?
It’s reasonable to want to blame the past - the CFA Board has said they regret the actions of the past; however the current CFA management are taking responsibility for this report. The purpose of this independent investigation was to find out what happened and to learn from it. It was never designed to be a witch hunt and find someone to blame.
We believe that one of the reasons these previous practices took place – and were not addressed sooner - was a mixture of culture and poor business systems and processes.
The Professor Joy report says that the CFA had a can do, paramilitary style. Fire fighters were encouraged to be uncomplaining, brave and to follow orders. This may have contributed to a failure to recognise and address unnecessary risk during training.
Why was the practice of using chemicals in live firefighting training allowed to continue for so long?
The practice of using chemicals in live firefighting training ceased in 1996. For the most part, it occurred in an era where the effect of working with chemicals was not well understood especially in comparison to today. For much of this era training with chemicals was considered standard practice, not only in Victoria but across Australia and even around the world.
That said, the report found “it is notable that CFA did not adopt a more systemic approach to health, safety and environmental issues as other sectors did through the 1980s and 1990s.The fact that CFA hired its first OH&S Manager in 1994 is indicative of a late awakening by the senior management and the Board”. Professor Joy felt that CFA was too slow to make improvements.
The practice of live firefighting training continues to this day but we now use LPG, wood and unleaded/diesel petrol (to start the fire). It’s vital that our recruits are given real-life conditions to practice in. Training in realistic conditions saves firefighter’s lives.
- The report says that drums may still be buried at Fiskville - what will you do it about it?
Many of the drums previously buried have now been excavated and exhumed. We believe some drums still remain in the ground. Further investigation will now be carried out with the intention of finding and potentially removing any that remain if they pose a risk. There is a lot of uncertainty about where they were buried. The report does not say buried drums are a significant risk to people at Fiskville.
- If there are buried drums, do they pose a threat to those at Fiskville now?
We don’t expect that while they remain buried the drums will present any significant risk. Further assessment will need to be done to locate them and further testing will be done for more reassurance. The drums may be removed as a precaution.
- The report says the water running into Lake Fiskville is contaminated – does this water flow into the local water catchment?
While the Lake Fiskville water does flow into a creek that eventually flows in to a water catchment, the concentration level of potential contaminants is low due to entrapment in the sediments (attaches to the soil) and the effect of dilution. It is important to remember that water authorities apply rigorous international standards for testing water quality. We have spoken to the local water catchment and they have not raised any concerns.
Professor Joy concludes that the concentration level of potential contaminants is low. The Professor Joy Report calls for precautionary actions to be taken and we will be doing further testing in this area. Professor Joy has not suggested the site needs to be closed.
- Has the storage and use of chemicals affected the groundwater at Fiskville? This is considered unlikely. However, the groundwater is very deep and previous investigations were unable to test this adequately. We will now do further testing as a precaution, which requires deeper drilling. It is unlikely that anyone using groundwater in the district would be affected because the nearest bore is 2 km away and it is not used as a drinking water supply.
- Is Fiskville safe now and will it stay open?
It’s important to remember Fiskville and other CFA training grounds have been inspected by hygienists and environmental consultants Hazcon, who found there were no significant risks to the health and safety of those who work there (including trainees and visitors). The firewater used at Fiskville is tested on a monthly basis by an independent water authority and has been since 2009. Prior to that it was tested on a quarterly basis. As a precaution and to give our people total comfort, we have stopped using the water from dams 1 and 2 and we are using only potable water for firewater training.
The Professor Joy Report calls for precautionary actions to be taken at Fiskville but has not suggested the site needs to be closed.
- Are the other training grounds safe and will they stay open?
As mentioned above, it’s important to remember Fiskville and other CFA training grounds have been inspected by hygienists, including environmental consultants Hazcon, who found there were no significant risks to the health and safety of those who work there (including trainees and visitors). At the beginning of this investigation, Hazcon provided an independent assessment of all of CFAs field training grounds. The reports provided 34 recommendations and 33 have already been completed. The remaining one, regarding updating a statewide field training manual, will be completed in coming months. We have taken action and made improvements ahead of the release of the Professor Joy Report into past practices, to provide extra confidence to anyone using the sites.
- The report says Dams 1 and 2 are contaminated and you have been using this water for training purposes. Hasn’t that put our people at risk?
The report does confirm traces of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). We do test this water on a regular basis to make sure it is within the acceptable limits for training. That said, as a precaution and to give our people total comfort, we have stopped using the water from dams 1 and 2 and we are using only mains water for firefighter training. We are now looking at longer term alternative options for firefighting training.
The report does not say people have been placed at significant health risk from this water.
- What is the quality of water used for training at other grounds? How is that risk being assessed?
Longerenong and Penshurst both use mains water (drinking water quality). Water management plans are in place for all field training grounds, which includes a regular testing regime. On the advice of environmental consultants, CFA has increased the frequency of water testing to monthly.
Importantly, AFFF Foam is not used at the training grounds and has not been for some time.
We do not believe water at other training grounds has posed a significant health risk.
- The report shows that chemicals were burnt at Fiskville and people were placed at high risk of exposure. We know that chemicals can cause illnesses, why won’t you pay compensation? Isn’t that enough?
The report confirms that people were exposed to chemicals at Fiskville. The report doesn’t explain the possible health effects of those chemicals or what exposure levels create a health risk. That’s why we need to investigate further and determine if practices at Fiskville had an effect on members’ health. Matters of compensation would only be considered after further study.
- What is a health impact study and how will it be done?
We recently met with Professor John McNeil, Head of the Monash University Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine to seek his advice on our intention to further assess any potential links between past practices and members’ health. Professor McNeil advised CFA that a health impact study to determine the incidence of certain cancers would be the most appropriate form of study. The next step is to facilitate a discussion and determine what the requirement for such a study.
- What support is available for CFA members?
CFA has an existing health and welfare service that provides access to health services and to a peer support program, chaplains, psychologists and counsellors. This service has been expanded and now also includes the following support services that were developed especially for those who may be affected by the Fiskville matter:
- A health and welfare hotline providing 24hour access for up-to-date information on services available as well as on-the-spot counseling;
- Medical reviews for members and their families who have registered with CFA because they believe they may have been affected by Fiskville;
- Case management based communication for identified past and present members (and their families) so that they have a direct relationship with CFA including face-to-face meetings, telephone contact and written communication.
These services will also be strengthened by:
- Offering health monitoring for those identified as being in a high or medium risk of exposure group;
- Commissioning an independent health impact study to examine linkages between the risk of exposure to hazardous materials at Fiskville and health effects;
- Providing information packs to CFA members and families outlining the support available.
- Providing information packs to members of the public outlining details on how to access community based services.
- What support will you provide for those people identified as being at high-medium risk of exposure to chemicals?
In addition to the standard CFA welfare support services, we have instigated a proactive voluntary health surveillance program for persons identified with an overall exposure to risk that has been rated as high or medium and /or where it is deemed medically appropriate. As part of the program, individuals will be offered an annual medical assessment (including a medical history health questionnaire and a full medical examination). Additionally the following range of medical tests would be performed;
- Full Blood Examination (FBE)
- Liver function tests (Lefts)
- Renal function (Serum Creatinine, Urea and Electrolytes)
- Spirometry (Lung function test)
- Additional tests that may be deemed appropriate
- I registered with the Fiskville Investigation yet I haven’t heard anything from CFA?
Why did CFA not pass on member details to the Independent Fiskville Investigator?
At all times CFA was keen to ensure the Independent Investigator’s process was kept separate. To ensure the independence of the investigation was maintained, we advised those who provided information to the CFA project team to provide that same information direct to the Independent Investigator. There were also issues of privacy that needed to be considered.
Full information here: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/fiskville-investigation/