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Update for emergency services on Hazelwood open cut mine fire
Bob Barry was the Incident Controller earlier this week at the Hazelwood open cut mine fire
We’re now a couple of weeks into the Hazelwood open cut mine firefight and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved so far – firefighters, emergency management teams, incident management teams, experts – from all agencies, departments and locations. This really has been a whole of government effort with everyone doing their bit.
I also want to call for your continued support.
This has not been an easy fire to deal with, either on the fireground or in the Incident Control Centre and the Regional Control Centre, and those who were here first really felt the pressure. Your hard work and perseverance have enabled us to make significant progress not only in suppressing the fire, but in keeping the community informed.
The tactics we’ve employed to date have worked well and continue to get better. For instance, a trial of compressed air foam produced good results and we are now ramping up use of this foam as a suppression tactic. We’re also using specialist appliances like the two fire tenders from Aviation Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) and firefighters from interstate are helping out.
Smoke, ash and carbon monoxide levels have fluctuated since the fire started and they will continue to do so. The community and our people have expressed concern and frustration about the situation and their health, but let me assure you that health is our number one priority. We would not be undertaking any activities that put the health of our people or the public at risk.
In terms of the fireground, the fire itself is creating fairly unpleasant conditions but that is the nature of fighting a fire of this type and we need to remember that this is a critical incident for Victoria. We have improved staging facilities and strict arrangements are in place around the protection, monitoring and management of the health of everyone on the fireground. Breathing apparatus is required and one member from every crew involved in the firefight is required to wear a carbon monoxide monitor which takes readings every 15 minutes. No-one arrives or leaves the mine without being tested first.
We are undertaking dynamic risk assessments and our strategies, plans (like our health plan) and operating environments are being constantly reviewed and improved. We have recently changed our Command & Control structure to ensure appropriate levels of supervision. We now have an Incident Controller managing everything inside the mine from the Traralgon ICC (i.e. the firefight and relevant warnings) and a Regional Controller overseeing all community engagement and strategic information (i.e. what’s happening outside of the mine).
As you can imagine, these are trying conditions for all involved. Fighting a fire this complex requires dedication ‘at the coal face’ as well as within the community and we cannot lose sight of the impact it is having on the people of Morwell and the surrounding communities. Everyone involved is working around the clock to provide the community with the best information and support possible.
All of us in Gippsland are conscious that it’s the end of a long, busy season and that this fire is a challenging one. There is every indication that this fire will continue for some weeks and we will continue to need your support in dealing with it and keeping the community informed.