Hazelwood hard at work

RELATED COVERAGE: All was quiet on the western front…

One year ago today the Hernes Oak fire tore along the Princes Highway and spotted into the Hazelwood mine, which soon engulfed its northern batters.

Fire fighters from across the country swarmed to the mine to help extinguish the fire.

The mine fire burnt for 45 days, causing smoke, ash and other harmful by-products to float above and rain down over Morwell, settling in house roofs and prompted the relocation of schools and people at risk.

The community and candidates for the recent state election cast criticism on the handling of the situation by Victorian Chief Health Officer Rosemary Lester, the State Government and mine proprietor GDF SUEZ.

Former State Electricity Commission workers voiced concerns the mine was not adequately prepared for a fire.

Following the blaze, the State Government-funded Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry was lead by Justice Bernard Teague.

The inquiry involved phases of community consultation, an avenue for community members to submit statements and formal public hearings.

Eighteen recommendations were handed down to various authorities and six were made to GDF SUEZ.

GDF SUEZ also made 17 affirmations prior to the inquiry’s close – 14 of these have since been fulfilled.

Four out of the six recommendations have also been carried out.

When this reporter visited the mine on Thursday, it was hard to believe less than a year ago, the black, brown and now vegetated mine batters burnt red hot.

Throughout the visit, infrastructure such as sprinkler systems, referenced signage, a new power system, forward looking infrared monitors and an onsite CFA storage container appeared to be the most significant upgrades.

An initial concern raised by fire fighters first on the scene was that they had no way to navigate their way around the mine’s 16 kilometre perimeter.

Help from the command centre was limited, due to a power outage.

Now, at every turn signs reference a map for all emergency services.

Many measures are in place to ensure command centres and the station can operate without an external power supply.

GDF SUEZ must:

Revise its emergency response plan to require an increased state of readiness on days of total fire ban, require pre-establishment of an emergency command centre, require pre-positioning of an accredited incident controller as emergency commander and require any persons nominated as emergency commander to have IC accreditation and proficiency in the use of the Australasian Inter-service Incident Management System

Establish enhanced back-up power supply arrangements that do not depend wholly on mains to the emergency command centre and reticulated fire services water system

– Review its mine fire service policy and code of practice so it reflects industry best practice and is suitable for fire prevention, mitigation and suppression in all parts of the mine

GDF SUEZ must:

Conduct, assisted by an independent consultant, a risk assessment of the likelihood and consequences of fire in the worked out areas of the mine and an assessment of the most effective fire protection for exposed coal surfaces; they must then prepare a plan to eliminate and reduce risk of fire and implement it

Adopt and apply the firefighter carbon monoxide response protocol

GDF SUEZ must:

Nominate a group of staff to be trained in the Phoenix Rapidfire modelling tool prior to the 2014/2015 fire season

Offer enhanced training prior to the 2014/2015 fire season and on an ongoing basis, to personnel who are intended to perform a role under the emergency command structure and relevant emergency service agencies

Establish an emergency command structure at the mine to deal with extreme fire danger days

Notify CFA of the identity and contact details of those personnel holding these roles

On extreme fire danger days, GDF SUEZ ensure more personnel are rostered on and additional contractors are available for dedicated fire protection duties

Upgrade signage within the mine to make orientation easier for non-mine personnel

Initiate a programme for reducing vegetation in the worked out areas of the northern batters to reduce fire risk commencing in the areas closest to Morwell

Maintain and continue to use the additional pipe system located in the northern batters which was installed during the 2014 fire and install additional pipework as identified

Conduct a review of the current pipework and condition in the areas of the mine other than the eastern section of the northern batters

On Extreme Fire Danger Days GDF SUEZ instigate wetting down of non-operational areas

Nominate a representative to attend the meetings of the Municipal Fire Prevention Committee convened by Latrobe City Council

Nominate designated people to be in attendance at the CFA Incident Control Centre during an emergency which threatens the mine

Review its own communications protocol to ensure that during the response to a fire which is capable of impacting on the community, it is able to communicate messages to the community via any protocol adopted following the review by all agencies

Undertake the rehabilitation set out in inquiry evidence and discuss the appropriate timing of each sequence of rehabilitation with the Department of State Development, Business and Innovation

GDF SUEZ must:

Negotiate with AusNet Services regarding a feasibility study to upgrade the MHO substation from temporary to permanent standard

Work with Victorian Work Cover Authority to review its Safety Assessment and Safety Management System in light of Occupational Health and Safety regulations

Develop a Carbon Monoxide management protocol for firefighter and mine employee safety prior to the 2014/2015 fire season, in consultation with VWA and CFA