Inquiry: Fire safety questioned

The man tasked with the operation of fire service equipment in the Hazelwood mine has testified the removal of water pipe work near and among in fire affected sections of the mine were allowed by a fire policy in place at the time.

GDF SUEZ carbon efficiency and improvement general manager Richard Polmear, a former head of fire services, told the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry several kilometres of pipe work were removed from 1994 to 2007 period due to ageing and corrosion.

Mr Polmear said the pipelines’ removal did not breach Generation Victoria’s 1994 Fire Service Policy, as long as alternative firefighting measures were in place.

Counsel Assisting the Inquiry Melinda Richards asked whether the then-operator State Electricity Commission of Victoria was “setting its sights” on ensuring only the minimum fire protection requirements were met; Mr Polmear said that was his understanding.

“And then subsequent to that, post privatisation, there continued to be an approach of… compliance with the minimum requirements of the policy?” Ms Richards asked, to which Mr Polmear replied “yes”.

Mr Polmear said a range of tanker filling points were positioned around the Hazelwood perimeter as required by the 1994 regulations.

However, Mr Richards then pointed to testimonies provided earlier in the Inquiry detailing a major power outage within the mine on 9 February, which rendered the tanker filling points inoperable.

Later the Inquiry was shown a map detailing the extensive network of piping which was required to be installed throughout the course of the February firefight to get adequate water to the fire fronts.

The Inquiry heard 10 kilometres of firefighting pipe work and about 15km of drainage pipe were installed in the mine after fire took root.

On Thursday GDF SUEZ technical services manager James Faithfull told the inquiry any un-rehabilitated coal batters should have adequate fire water services.

Under questioning by Environment Victoria lawyer Lisa Nichols, Mr Faithfull was asked to confirm if, “the principal ways of guarding against fire risk in a mine are either rehabilitation, which provides insulation, or providing an adequate fire service?”

“Providing (there’s) an adequate fire service, that’s right,” Mr Faithfull replied.

When asked if he considered the fire protection benefits of rehabilitation during planning Mr Faithfull said it was not the “driver behind rehabilitation”.

“I consider that the areas that aren’t covered by rehabilitation are covered by the fire service network,” Mr Faithfull said.

“Why didn’t you think about whether or not the fire service would be sufficient to protect against the risk of fire in un-remediated worked out batters in the mine?” Ms Nichols asked.

“I presume that we have an adequate fire service system. It’s not my area of speciality,” he said.