Primed for fire action

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley has moved to re-assure the community that authorities and mine operators have ramped up fire prevention measures heading into the fire season.

He described the re-instatement of pipework in the northern batters of the Hazelwood Mine as “significant”.

“It will allow sprinklers to operate and wet down the disused part of the mine on an extreme fire day,” Mr Lapsley said.

He said a compressed air foam truck had been commissioned by the CFA and would be permanently stationed in the Latrobe Valley.

“You can lay the foam like a blanket over the batters and supress the amount of smoke and dust.

“It doesn’t put the fire out, but it allows you to get close enough to put water on it.”

Mr Lapsley heads the Coal Mine Emergency Management Taskforce, set up following the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, with the aim of ensuring mine operators and government agencies follow through with their fire prevention commitments.

One of those commitments pledged by Hazelwood owner GDF SUEZ was training a group of staff in understanding the ‘Phoenix Rapidfire’ model – a fire prediction tool.

The Inquiry revealed the Hazelwood mine’s emergency services manager did not fully understand the tool when shown on 8 February and had to consult his counterpart at AGL Loy Yang.

Mr Lapsley said the mines had trained staff in how to interpret the model, and had reduced vegetation in mine areas, had formal training with emergency services on emergency management, renewed firebreaks and improved hotspot identification, including thermal imaging cameras.

“We also aim to do a fly-over every two weeks with an infrared camera,” Mr Lapsley said.

“Hotspots are normal in mines. What we’ve got to do is detect them early.”

Mr Lapsley said the community would be warned of a coal hotspot or fire once there was visible smoke, or smoke billowing into the community.

He said VicRoads had delayed its major fire prevention cuts until the later part of December to ensure they “get the best out of the cut”.

Three firefighting aircraft will be based in the Latrobe Valley from mid-December.

Mr Lapsley described the mood among authorities on the taskforce as “extremely positive”.

“They’ve been extremely cooperative and willing to have the hard discussions to get good results,” he said.

“We still ask the community to do their bit. It’s not just about the mines, we need people to understand that fire could come from any direction.

“They need to do their prevention work and prepare themselves.”