Category Archives: Victoria

New South Wales | More firefighters deployed to assist Victoria

Minister for Police and Emergency Services Michael Gallacher has this afternoon joined Fire & Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins to farewell a group of about 35 firefighters deployed to Victoria to assist the Victorian Fire Services who have been battling a large bush fire for several weeks.

Minister Gallacher said he was impressed by the collaboration between the Victorian, NSW and other interstate fire services.

“This group of firefighters is among more than 200 FRNSW firefighters deployed to Victoria to assist their firefighting efforts.

“This summer has seen a huge deployment of firefighters and resources to both Victoria and South Australia with hundreds of firefighters from Fire & Rescue NSW and more than a thousand firefighters and dozens of trucks and aircraft from the NSW Rural Fire Service.

“It is a testament to the expertise of FRNSW that NSW is able to provide such a significant resource commitment to Victoria while maintaining the delivery of fire and emergency services in NSW.”

Commissioner Mullins said the deployment, the first of its kind to see FRNSW firefighters and fire engines working at interstate fire stations, was providing vital assistance to firefighters in Victoria while at the same time providing FRNSW firefighters with a unique learning experience.

“Since last Wednesday, 10 FRNSW engines and crews have been stationed at Country Fire Authority fire stations as local firefighters deal with the mine fire. This arrangement will continue until at least 11 March 2014.

“FRNSW firefighters have been staffing fire stations in Frankston, Patterson River, Dandenong, Traralgon, Morwell, Shepparton, Bendigo, Ballarat City, Corio and Geelong City, freeing up hundreds of CFA firefighters to respond to the mine fire at Hazelwood”, said Commissioner Mullins.

“Our firefighters have had the opportunity to work alongside their Victorian counterparts, using different equipment and responding to a range of emergencies, which is great way for them to develop their own skills as firefighters.

“I’d like to thank the people of Victoria and the CFA, who have welcomed the FRNSW crews into their towns and made them feel right at home.

Minister Gallacher said the NSW Government would continue to provide support interstate for as long as it was required.

“The commitment of our paid and volunteer firefighters to help our neighbours in need is truly heart-warming,” Minister Gallacher concluded.

Victoria | Support from interstate firefighters “invaluable” for Victoria

Fire and Rescue NSW support frees up Vic firefighters for Hazelwood

Thirty Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters (FRNSW) arrived in Victoria yesterday to support CFA firefighters being deployed to the open cut mine fire at Hazelwood and MFB crews stepping up to CFA stations.

Victoria’s Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the crews would be stationed at metropolitan and major regional CFA stations across Victoria.

“Fire Rescue NSW is an urban firefighting service and will bring specialist urban trucks for response to building fires, industrial fires, car fires and hazmat incidents,” he said.

The NSW crews will be stationed at 10 stations including Geelong City, Shepparton and Dandenong, working side by side with local career and volunteer firefighters.

They brought with them 10 trucks and three management staff. Another 30 firefighters will arrive today.

“With potentially weeks of work ahead for firefighters in the Latrobe Valley, the ongoing support from interstate and international fire services is invaluable.

“We will staff these metropolitan and larger regional stations with NSW crews, giving us the opportunity to move some career firefighters to increase resources at Hazelwood,” he said.

FRNSW Commissioner Greg Mullins said more than 200 FRNSW firefighters will be deployed to Victoria over the next two weeks.

“Firefighters in Victoria have been operating at a very high tempo for the past few weeks, fighting a number of large and intense bushfires.

“Victorian firefighters provided assistance to NSW in October last year when bushfires ravaged the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and Central Coast of NSW, with firefighters from the MFB,CFA and Department of Environment and Primary Industries working at a number of fires the greater Sydney area.

“We welcome the opportunity to return this support. It’s also a great opportunity for FRNSW firefighters to work alongside our interstate counterparts.”

Commissioner Mullins has been in Victoria this week at the request of the Victorian Fire Services Commissioner as part of an expert panel that is providing advice on the response to the fire burning in the open cut coal mine near Morwell.

The Hazelwood fire is burning along a 3km length of an unused section of the open cut mine and is expected to burn for weeks.

FRNSW firefighters will be stationed at Frankston, Patterson River, Dandenong, Traralgon, Morwell, Shepparton, Bendigo, Ballarat City, Corio and Geelong City.  MFB crews who have been stepped up to some of these stations will now return to the Metropolitan District.

Victoria | Update on Morwell Mine Fire – 20 Feb 2014

The bushfire that started west of Morwell and spread into the Morwell mine on the afternoon of Sunday 9 February continues to burn, producing significant smoke and ash that is impacting on surrounding communities.

[Issued by George Graham, Asset Manager, GDF SUEZ Hazelwood]

This is one of the most serious fire situations ever confronted at the Morwell mine and GDF SUEZ Hazelwood is working closely with the CFA and MFB to extinguish smouldering mine faces as quickly as we can. I cannot speak too highly of all those who have worked tirelessly to first bring the fire under control and who are now tackling the challenging task of extinguishing the fire.

At the same, we fully understand the inconvenience and concern that the smoke from the fire has caused for people living in surrounding areas. As several other Victorian communities have experienced in recent times as a result of major bushfires, the level of smoke is directly related to the severity and intensity of the fires. I assure you that GDF SUEZ Hazelwood is committed to working with all relevant authorities to reduce the level of smoke as quickly as we can.

There are many questions being asked in the community about various aspects of the fire and the fire-fighting response. This open letter to the Latrobe Valley community aims to answer some of those key questions.

What is the current status of the fire?
The fire has been contained but continues to burn on two worked out faces of the mine. An area of some 150 hectares has been affected, with the fire spread over some 2.5 km on three levels of the mine. The fire is a distance of some three kilometres from the mine operating face. The task now is to progressively extinguish the smouldering faces.

What caused the fire and how was it able to spread?
While the cause of the fire will be the subject of investigations, it is believed that the fire was caused by embers entering the mine from the bushfire west of Morwell. This ember attack, fanned by high winds, is believed to have rapidly caused a number of spot fires across the Northern and South-eastern areas of the mine.

Does Hazelwood have a fire prevention and protection strategy in place?
Yes, GDF SUEZ Hazelwood has a comprehensive fire prevention and protection strategy incorporating a number of proactive processes in place including fire detection, fire prevention and fire mitigation measures. These processes include regular patrols, fire watch, fire alerts, and sprays to protect the operational and non operational areas and reduce dust levels in the mine’s exposed coal faces. Hazelwood’s focus is at all times on ensuring the safety of people, along with ensuring supply of power and protection of property and infrastructure.

What is being done to extinguish the fire?
Some 200 CFA and MFB firefighters have joined with 80 mine personnel to jointly fight the fire around the clock over the past week and a half. The best available fire-fighting equipment sourced from all over Victoria and some from interstate has been brought to the fire-fight. This includes a range of aerial fire suppression involving long-line helicopters and sky-cranes.

How long will that take?
It will take significant time and effort to extinguish as the coal needs to be cooled with large quantities of water being applied over an extended period to prevent re-ignition. Experience suggests it could take up to two weeks or more to completely extinguish.

What is being done to reduce the level of smoke?
While the fire-fighting authorities are doing all they can to minimise smoke leaving the mine, weather and atmospheric conditions will be the major determinant of the level of smoke.

Have fire-fighters been affected by carbon monoxide?
Ongoing monitoring of all those involved in the fire-fighting operation has resulted in a number of personnel being taken to hospital for testing and observation. There have been no reports of any serious impacts of carbon monoxide. Personal and area monitoring is continuing to ensure the safety of all those involved.

Has the fire affected mining and power station operations?
Coal supply was interrupted in the initial stages when we lost power supply to the mine. However, this was quickly rectified and coal dredgers and power station generating units have been back in normal operation for more than a week.

Will there be an investigation into the fire and its impact on surrounding communities?
Yes. An investigation will be conducted as soon as possible, taking into account the current focus on extinguishing the fire and ensuring the protection of people and property.

Why hasn’t Hazelwood been represented at the two community meetings?
These meetings were principally called to provide information on any health concerns that local residents may have. Hazelwood has been working closely with the CFA and other agencies, by providing information as appropriate. In the case of these meetings, it was felt that health concerns of Morwell residents and Latrobe Valley communities are best handled by the appropriate health authorities.

Where can I get more information?
A number of authorities have information lines to respond to specific queries.

They are:
– Victorian Bushfire Information line 1800 240 667
– Environment Protection Authority (EPA) 1300 372 842
– Nurse on Call 24 hours a day, seven days a week 1300 606 024
– Department of Health 1300 253 942
– State Environment Health Unit 1300 761 874

GDF SUEZ Hazelwood fully understands the Latrobe Valley community’s concerns about the current situation. I assure you we are committed to continuing this major operation to extinguish the fire as quickly as we can.

Victoria | Mines fires FAQs – Updated 20 Feb 2014

Here’s the latest information on the Latrobe Valley mine fires which may help answer any questions you have about the fire or associated health impacts.

1. How does the CFA incorporate local knowledge into the firefight, strategy and planning?

• Local CFA members are embedded in the response structure at all levels, from firefighters on the ground to incident controllers

2. What expertise from former SEC employees been utilised?

• This firefight is a joint response with the mining staff and the agencies both of which have employees that are ex-SEC

3. Should the mine be flooded to stop the fire?

• Flooding the mine would halt production at the mine and shut down the Hazelwood Power Station
• Our strategy is to protect critical infrastructure for power generation
• We want to ensure that the mine and power station can maintain power supply for the state.

4. Are there poisonous substances (in addition to CO) such as heavy metals in the smoke and the ash?

• Victoria has brown coal which contains oxides including calcium, aluminium, potassium, sodium, iron and magnesium. Reported analyses of brown coal does not indicate the presence of heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. Ash has the potential to act as a mild skin, eye or throat irritant. Local samples of the ash are being analysed by EPA.

5. How dangerous is prolonged exposure to these substances to humans (adults and children) and animals?

• It is not expected that exposure as a result of this fire will have long term health effects. Ash is sticky and may be pervasive in your home and therefore some exposure is expected. You should practise good hygiene to avoid unnecessary exposure. For example, wash hands and face before eating. Clean surfaces with damp cloths regularly.

6. What are the impacts of ash on babies?

• It is not recommended that babies and young children play in ash or dusty conditions, to reduce the skin, eye and throat irritation and unnecessary ingestion. Practise good hygiene including washing toys.

7. Is it safe to stay indoors given that for many people their houses are old and the smoke and ash does get in?

• It is safe to stay indoors. Wipe surfaces with damp cloths. The department has general advice on the website about cleaning up a smoke-affected home. http://www.health.vic.gov.au/environment/bushfires.htm

8. Does Traralgon Hospital have the capacity to cope with people reporting suffering impacts from the smoke (headaches, fainting, vomiting)?

• Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon has not seen an increase in demand for services through its emergency department. If it does, there are strategies in place to meet that demand. First point of contact for health concerns is Nurse on Call. Then your GP, then in an emergency, call 000.
• The department is monitoring the demand on services, and staff will attend public meetings to give general information about health concerns but will not be able to give personalised health advice.

9. Will the Department of Health dispatch more staff to attend medical needs resulting from smoke and ash?

• Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon has not seen an increase in demand for services through its emergency department. If it does, there are strategies in place to meet that demand.
• First point of contact for health concerns is Nurse on Call. Then your GP, then in an emergency, call 000.
• The department is monitoring the demand on services and staff will be provided to public meetings to give general information about health concerns but will not be able to give personalised health advice.

10. Are there other medical services people can access other than the hospital?

• NURSE-ON-CALL, local GP and community health services

11. Where can members of the community have CO levels tested?

• It is not necessary to be tested for CO exposure. If you’re unwell you should seek medical advice.

12. Are there long term health impacts associated with the smoke and ash?

• Long term health effects from the smoke and ash are unlikely as a result of the fire. However, it is important to follow health advice about avoiding or reducing exposure to smoke. People should monitor their health and visit their GP when needed.

13. Are there long term impacts associated with the ash falling on people and their properties?

• Long term health effects from the ash are unlikely as a result of this fire.

14. Are children going to get sick if they exercise/play outdoors?

• Children may experience the irritant and respiratory effects of smoke and ash. Reducing the amount of outdoor play will reduce exposure to the ash and smoke. Follow good hygiene practices such as washing hands and face before eating.

15. School children are coming home covered in ash. Will they suffer health impacts? Should they be kept at home?

• Children may experience the irritant and respiratory effects of smoke and ash. Reducing the amount of outdoor play will reduce the exposure to the ash. Some schools are relocating their children to reduce their exposure to smoke and ash . There is no need to keep children at home unless the school has advised otherwise.

16. Where can the community get readings from the EPA monitors?

• We have doubled monitoring efforts and we are making more information available on the web www.epa.vic.gov.au or 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842)
• There will be a new mobile air monitoring station outside the police station from tomorrow that will be providing more data to EPA to inform the Health Department and Incident Management Team.
• There will be more information to come, priority has been to get the lab on site and start monitoring the air.

17. Does the EPA website have sufficient information on the testing results for Morwell?

• We are increasing the amount of information about the smoke – which includes our data around PM2.5 small particles, PM10 large particles.
• EPA has listened to the community concerns. EPA responders and controllers have been installing new monitoring stations and mobile equipment and these will be set up Thursday (20/02) with available data about carbon monoxide in the next few days.
• To support the six monitoring stations, we have EPA staff monitoring air with hand held devices and will have vehicle-mounted information beginning Thursday (20/02) afternoon.

18. Is the EPA testing in the correct places?

• Yes, based on our scientific expertise these are in the right place to capture the worst levels of particles, allowing us to inform the Department of Health and emergency response in Morwell. More monitors are being placed and mobile monitoring will enable wider and targeted gathering of information.

19. Community members say there is more smoke around houses closer to the mine than where the monitors are placed (the Morwell Police Station)?

• The monitoring stations are fanned out around town to represent the local impacts as effectively as possible. The large number of sites and the wide dispersion of fixed and mobile monitoring will provide better understanding of the impacts and enable the provision of timely and relevant advice.

20. What about carbon monoxide?

• We have two carbon monoxide monitors and we’re arranging more to come. These are our own and we will be pushing this information on to the web and other channels to reach the community. We will continue to monitor for this around the clock along with CFA.

21. Where are the monitoring stations?

• Our monitoring network includes a fixed particulate station at Traralgon, two more are online in Morwell and two more coming online.
• There are also four fixed carbon monoxide monitors in Morwell and EPOs are conducting hand held monitoring at several locations.
• A portable particulate monitor will be added tomorrow, as will indoor monitoring in a public building in Morwell.
• Additionally, we will have mobile monitors sweeping through the town and surrounding areas to collect information on ash and carbon monoxide.

22. Can people in public housing who do not have alternative accommodation options (no relations, friends who can provide accommodation) access alternatives?

• The Victorian Department of Human Services has opened a community respite centre this afternoon in the Latrobe Valley, where residents can seek temporary respite from the smoky conditions caused by the Latrobe Valley mine fires.
• The centre is operating in the Moe Town Hall, Albert Street, from 9am-7pm
• It will remain open subject to local demand.
• The centre will offer a cool air conditioned space where any resident can take a break away from the smoky conditions.
• Representatives from the following organisations will be present:
– Latrobe City Council
– Red Cross
– Victorian Council of Churches
– Ambulance Victoria
– Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
– Department of Health
– Victoria’s fire services

23. What is the impact of the smoke and ash on water supplies

• Gippsland Water does not expect there to be any impact on water supplies as a result of smoke and ash in the area. Treated water storages are all protected by floating covers.
• There has been no impact on water treatment facilities and none is expected.

24. What about the effects of livestock and pets?

• If you are concerned consult a vet or phone DEPI on 136 186

Victoria | Mine fires – Respite centre open in Moe

A community respite centre is now open in Moe for Latrobe Valley residents to seek temporary respite from the smoky conditions caused by the Morwell open-cut fire.

[updated: 12.30pm 20 Feb]

The centre is an initiative of the Victorian Department of Human Services, in conjunction with Latrobe City Council.

The centre is operating inside the Moe Town Hall, Albert Street, Moe from 9am – 7pm daily, subject to local demand.

The centre offers a cool air conditioned space where any resident or visitor can take a break away from the smoky conditions.

Representatives from the following organisations are on hand to offer information and support:

  • Latrobe City Council
  • Red Cross
  • Victorian Council of Churches
  • Ambulance Victoria
  • Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
  • Department of Health
  • Victoria’s fire services

Public transport is available to the centre via Latrobe Valley Bus Lines, with a bus stop directly outside the venue.

There is also a V/Line station in Moe, which is a short walk from the Moe Town Hall.

The community respite centre offers tea, coffee and biscuits, and current information on the fire situation – including health and environmental fact sheets.

The centre’s opening and closing times may vary over coming days, depending on the demand – so residents are urged to contact the Department of Human Services’ Traralgon office (during business hours) for the most current information on (03) 5177 2500.

Victoria | Mine fires update 20-Feb-2014

Rain on Wednesday and early this morning has made conditions difficult but fire crews have made significant progress at the Hazelwood Mine.

Weather conditions today are expected to deteriorate with 40 km/h winds and gusts of up to 60 km/h.

Ladder platforms and other aerial appliances, ground monitors, pumpers and tanker trucks and aircraft continue to extinguish fires in the northern and southern batters of the Hazelwood Mine.

Overnight rain made moving equipment through the mine difficult and firefighters had to work in wet, muddy conditions.

“Safety of firefighters and the community remains our number one priority,” Incident Controller Barry Foss said.

“This fire remains a complex one that will still take some weeks to bring under control. As a result smoke will continue to affect Morwell. I encourage anyone concerned about the smoke to seek out information and take advantage of the new respite centre now set up in Moe.”

A number of community initiatives are now in place after a community meeting was held on Tuesday. A respite centre has opened in Moe with representatives from all key agencies including CFA, EPA, Ambulance Victoria Department of Health and Department of Human Services available to provide
information.

The centre at Moe Town Hall is available to anyone who need respite from smoky conditions near the mine. Children’s facilities are available.

EPA has doubled its monitoring of conditions. New monitoring stations and mobile equipment has been set up. Extra data on conditions in Morwell will be available in coming days.

More information is available on the EPA website www.epa.vic.gov.au or by calling 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842).

Further community engagement is planned with a letter box drop of key information and contact details in areas badly affected by smoke and ash. Also, an information bus will be in Elgin St today near Morwell Coles from 9am-5pm. Community officers will be available in a number of central locations through the day:

  • Moe Coles from 1pm-2pm
  • Newborough Leisure Centre BBQ area 2.30pm-3.30pm
  • Trafalgar Fire Station 6pm-7pm

Management of the Yallourn mine fire is expected to be handed back to EnergyAustralia but will continue to be supported by Victorian fire agencies.

Victoria | Fentanyl tampering incident affects 19 patients of Ambulance Victoria

Statement from Greg Sassella, CEO, Ambulance Victoria

Ambulance Victoria is contacting 19 patients in north eastern Victoria who may have been given sterile saline instead of the pain relief medications fentanyl or morphine.

This follows the discovery during routine auditing that someone had tampered with these pain relief medications and replaced the contents with sterile saline.

On discovering the substitution in late December, AV:

• Immediately notified Victoria Police and asked them to formally investigate.
• Audited medications across the entire AV service including the Hume Region.
• Ordered tests on samples of the saline from the tampered vials and ampoules (which were found to be free of contamination).
• Withdrew access by paramedics to fentanyl in parts of north eastern Victoria while the investigation is ongoing.
• Put additional processes in place to further minimise the likelihood of further substitution.
• Ensured paramedics had access to other medications to provide quick-acting pain relief to patients in their care.
• Notified the Poison Drugs and Controlled Substances unit of the Department of Health.
• Established that there was no evidence of tampering in other regions of AV.

Victoria Police is continuing to investigate this matter and at this stage no action has been taken against any AV employee.

I would urge anyone within Ambulance Victoria who has knowledge of this activity to contact management or police for the sake of patients, colleagues and themselves.

Since discovering the substitution, Ambulance Victoria has conducted an extensive audit of all patient care records for cases where it was noted fentanyl or morphine was administered for pain relief but where no significant reduction in the patient’s pain level was noted.

As a result we are contacting 19 people who may not have experienced the desired levels of pain reduction.  In 12 of these cases, the medication was delivered through a nasal spray. These patients are not required to take any action.

The remaining seven patients received intravenous or intramuscular pain relief. While it is very reassuring that independent sample testing of the tampered ampoules show no bacterial or viral contamination, we are encouraging these patients to discuss this with Ambulance Victoria or their local doctor.

On behalf of Ambulance Victoria I offer my sincere apologies to these patients for not having been able to provide the level of care as effectively as could have been expected.

My thoughts are also with the paramedics who have unwittingly administered saline to patients in the mistaken belief that they were providing the pain relief required.

Patients who would like to discuss their case can contact Ambulance Victoria by phone (03 9840 3635) or by email professionalstandards@ambulance.vic.gov.au .

SA | MFS Strike Team to assist with Hazelwood Mine Fire in Victoria

A deployment of firefighters from the Metropolitan Fire Service will fly to Melbourne tomorrow to assist in battling the Hazelwood Mine Fire which continues to burn in Victoria.

The team comprises 8 firefighters and 1 Commander to help the Country Fire Authority (CFA) for at least 24 hours in combating the fire burning in an open-cut mine at Victoria’s biggest power station in Latrobe Valley.

The MFS will continue to assist Victoria with crews to rotate for possibly several weeks.

The crews will fly out of Adelaide Monday morning the 17th of February.

VIC | SES embraces local knowledge for emergency planning

With the launch of its Local Knowledge Policy, Victoria State Emergency Service (SES) is committed to embracing information from people on the ground to a greater extent than ever before.

Reviews of past emergencies demonstrate the value of incorporating local knowledge. The 2011 Victorian Floods Review showed examples of local knowledge being used to good effect to inform decision making during the 2010-11 floods, as well as where a lack of local knowledge hurt the response.

SES is implementing local knowledge initiatives by:

  • - Identifying and working with existing networks that are a source of local knowledge
  • - Identifying community observers to provide information and observations during emergencies
  • - Identifying community observers within relevant emergency plans including Municipal Flood Emergency Plans
  • - Establishing command and control arrangements with other emergency service providers

SES acknowledges and appreciates the contributions of all community members, other emergency service agencies and stakeholders thus far to its local knowledge initiatives and looks forward to continuing to work closely with them in the future.

For further information, including how you can get involved, read the Local Knowledge Factsheet.pdf (256 KB)