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The decision to close Fiskville
A message from Chair Claire Higgins and CEO Michael Wootten
The decision to permanently close Fiskville has had a significant impact on our people, particularly those who have worked and trained at the site.
This was not a decision the Board made quickly or took lightly. Fiskville has been an important part of CFA’s identity, and many members will have memories from working and training there over the years.
For many, Fiskville is more than a place for training, development courses, graduations and memorials. To some it has been a home.
We want to stress that while this was an extremely difficult decision for the Board, more importantly we know this is a very difficult and uncertain time for our members. You are our priority.
As you know, last week CFA received test results from more than 550 water samples taken from across the site. Environmental auditors tested for a number of chemicals, including PFOS, a type of perfluorinated chemical used in firefighting foams until 2007. Although no traces of PFOS were found in drinking water outlets, it was detected in 65 of the 73 samples taken from the practical area for drills (PAD). The levels of PFOS ranged from less than one microgram per litre to 50 micrograms per litre.
The tests also found traces of PFOS in an area which was previously thought to be clear of contamination - in a fire hose outlet in the aircraft hangar. This showed us that the contamination was more widespread than we had anticipated.
Before making a decision, the Board carefully considered the results and reviewed all options. Some of our considerations included:
• the health and safety of our members and visitors to the site
• the impact on Fiskville staff, all members and the local community if the site was closed
• the results showing contamination in a new area of the site
• the increased levels of PFOS in some areas
• the cost estimates to remediate the site
• the possibility of further and unknown contamination at the site
• the requirement to establish an alternative training ground if Fiskville was closed
• the requirement to meet our training delivery needs into the future.
We canvassed the views of each Board member and considered the impacts of each option. The final decision was difficult, but it was a unanimous one: the Board could no longer guarantee the health and safety of our people and therefore the site should be closed permanently.
The decision to close the site follows years of investigations, inquiries, risk assessments, environmental audits and studies into the safety of the site and the impact on our people. In recent years CFA has worked hard to remediate the site to make it safer for our members.
Despite our best efforts, the most recent tests results showed contamination in areas previously thought to be clear, and at elevated levels. We could not risk the health and safety of our people.
Now that a final decision has been made, we must turn our focus to the future.
Our next steps will be to ensure our people, particularly Fiskville staff, are fully supported during this time. Understandably, many are feeling upset and unsure about what comes next. Currently Fiskville staff are working from a number of sites which include Bangholme and the Moorabool Shire Council offices at Darley. All terms and conditions of their employment will be honoured.
Another priority will be to work with Emergency Management Victoria to find a suitable location for a new training campus. We know this is a big undertaking and it will take some time. In the meantime, we are exploring alternative arrangements to meet our training needs, including expanding our capacity at our other VEMTC regional training campuses.
We are also working on relocating the Firefighters’ Memorial. We know how important the memorial is to our members, particularly to the families and brigades of the fallen firefighters. We will ensure that the wall is well maintained at Fiskville until we have spoken to the families and brigades about the most appropriate location to honour those who gave their lives protecting their communities.
Finally, we will be starting work on the safe decommissioning and decontamination of the Fiskville site. We know this will be a large and complex project and a very important one. This will come together as a plan to work through each of these matters.
For CFA, the closure of Fiskville is not the end of a story – it is the end of a chapter. Fiskville will always be an important part of our history.
If you are feeling anxious or upset about the Fiskville closure, please use CFA’s support services. The free 24-hour confidential counselling service is available for all members and their families via the Member Assistance Program on 1300 795 711. The Fiskville Enquiry Hotline on 1800 628 616 is also available to CFA members and the public.