Note – this article should be read in conjunction with my previous article
The purpose of this article is to put fire fighting in Victoria into its historical context. Then, ask some pertinent questions which will make the reader think about the current CFA/UFU dispute and the Political interference by the Federal Government.
I want to explore what the Fire Service people actually do and how well they are appreciated by the representatives of the people, the Government.
It was obviously a good idea to have a Fire Service. The Melbourne Fire Service came into being in 1891 after the first fire brigade Act was passed in 1890. That was 125 years ago. Before that volunteer Brigades existed back as far as 1845. In 1889 five fire fighters were killed on the job.
The population in Victoria in 1890 was 1,125,193. The City of Melbourne had a population of 490,000. After the formation of the Melbourne Fire Brigade there were 59 permanent fire fighters.
In 2016 Melbourne has a population is 5.2 Million with 2200 Permanent fire fighters in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
There are 1000 Professional Firefighters in the CFA in 2016 and just under 36,000 operational Volunteers. Not the 60,000 claimed by the Liberal party.
The Enterprise bargaining agreement for the CFA/UFU members only covers Professional paid Fire fighters.
For regional Victoria the Country Fire Authority Board was set up in 1891.
27 Metropolitan Fire fighters, since 1837, have lost their lives protecting the community.
67 CFA Fire Fighters have lost their lives since the formation of the CFA in 1944.
What do Fire fighters do and what are the risks doing it?
This may seem like a silly question but when you look at what they do, it’s a dangerous job in several ways, not least mentally.
House Fires: A variety of materials with a different chemicals composition
Smoke and fire.
Industrial premises: A variety of materials with much more different and toxic Chemicals.
Smoke and fire.
Wildfires: Intense heat and speed of advance. Difficult terrain and access.
Ingress and Egress.
Road accidents: Busy roads and Traffic whilst working on Accidents.
Seeing horrendou injuries and death.
Natural Disasters: Storms, Lightening and other adverse weather conditions and
These are a few of the things all fire fighters do. It is therefore most important that they do them in the safest possible way. This is a most important point. To fight a fire the professional needs to be trained in different types of fire, accidents and natural disasters.
Types of Fire
Class A Paper and Wood.
Class B Flammable liquids eg Paint and Petrol
Class C Flammable gases eg Butane and Methane
Class D Flammable Metals eg Lithium,Potassium and Magnesium
Electrical Electrical Equipment eg Computers and generators
Class F Deep fat fryers eg Chip pans.
This is a very basic classification and the fire fighter needs to have an understanding of the best way to extinguish the particular class of fire – whether to use water, foam, dry powder, CO2 or wet chemical.
The MFB 2014 –15 Annual Report says that the MFB were called out 36,923 times in that year.
The CFA 2014 – 15 Annual Report says that the CFA had 40,557 incidents in the year, with 82,880 turnouts.
Whatever the number, these are busy people. They need a lot of training to meet the competencies required for the job.
Fiskville Training Centre
The major Training Base for the CFA was at Fiskville near Bacchus Marsh. It opened in 1972 and was closed in 2015.
As the training centre evolved different training was done in order to closely emulate the different types of fire described above. Many third parties trained there, including the MFB.
In 2011 the Herald Sun newspaper broke a story about the safety at Fiskville. The first report was about Brian Potter who was seriously ill. Brian had been Chief Instructor at Fiskville, He lived there. In response to his recurrent illnesses, he sought Information and a meeting with Senior CFA staff to discuss the possibility of chemical contamination at Fiskville. This was in June 2011. Unaccountably the meeting he was supposed to have with a board member was cancelled. In December Brian went to the paper. He had been Chief Officer of the CFA.
Part of the newspaper report is worth highlighting.
“He knows nine from Fiskville who have died – cancers, brain tumours, heart failure, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma. There are probably more he doesn’t know about. He wonders why the CFA isn’t helping them and their families.” And then this:
“Brian remembered there was a report hidden deep in CFA headquarters detailing some of the chemicals handled carelessly at Fiskville. He had heard rumours that something dangerous was contained in those drums.
A few months ago, he called a senior member of the CFA and told him his fears. They picked a morning and made a time to meet a week or two later.
“They have a duty of care to him, and to everyone else that may be affected,” Diane (his wife) says.
But the CFA man didn’t show up. Brian hasn’t heard another word from CFA headquarters.”
The report also says in response to the cost of Petroleum based products used in the production of suitable fire training exercises.
“So CFA workers would scour Victoria for combustible waste – there was plenty of that stuff. Burning pad supervisor Ken Lee remembers taking out the Fiskville tanker and sucking up the sludge from the bottom of service station tanks, collecting old fish-n-chip shop oil, air force waste and paint and petrochemical factory left-overs.
It was the worst of the worst gunk. Everyone in the business knew Fiskville was a willing dumping ground.”
Another Herald Sun report claimed deaths from contamination and seriously ill CFA staff from contaminants at the site. The report talks about dangerous chemical exposure.
In response to the Herald Sun story, the CFA Board immediately appointed (December 2011) an “independent” expert to examine the newspaper claims. Professor Robert Joy, Chaired the report and his report is known as the Joy report. Published June 2012.
The CFA response to the Joy report can be viewed here.
Part of that 21 page response reiterates the following from the Joy Report.
“The conclusions of Professor Joy (pages 140 –142 of the Report) are reproduced below.
The historical risks to staff and the environment at Fiskville associated with the use of a range of flammable materials in training will never be fully known.”
As part of his review Professor Joy had access to CFA records. This is important because of the later Parliamentary enquiry.
The response said this.
“We also acknowledge the extent of the technical and support work that needed to be done to ensure the Investigation was robust and independent. Four million documents were searched and a targeted review was undertaken of 30,000 documents with 8,000 documents deemed relevant to the task. A range of environmental studies were undertaken and individual interviews needed to be structured so that they were thorough and could be relied upon to clarify the issues presented to Professor Joy and his team.”
The Joy report actually said this about documents. Page 28/169
“In January 2012, the IFI retained KordaMentha to undertake an independent search of CFA documents (both physical and electronic). KordaMentha searched an estimated four million records at 18 CFA sites, the Public Records Office and third party document stores. Record keeping practices varied across these sites, but were generally poor, with very limited and inaccurate cataloguing. One benefit of the Investigation has been to provide the CFA with an electronic catalogue and copies of a large body of records, many of which could not be reviewed within the timeframe of the Investigation.
In the time available, the Investigation undertook a targeted review of some 30,000 documents with about 8,000 assessed as most relevant reviewed more closely. The Investigation used e-document search tools and analysis software to import, classify and query information. Experienced analysts and investigators then evaluated information and developed rigorous lines of argument and conclusions.”
Chemicals used at Fiskville.
The Joy report said this at page 10/169
“Like flammable substances, the sources and manner of supply of foam concentrates to Fiskville historically is unclear and largely undocumented. Although a couple of documents were found from the 1990s noting product names for some foams, the Investigation did not locate documentary evidence confirming how foam was supplied to Fiskville. Some was likely to have come from commercial suppliers. However, some investigation participants noted that some foams were acquired through donations.
A variety of firefighting foams have been used in training at Fiskville. These include: high expansion foam, designed principally for flooding enclosed spaces and Class B foams used on liquid fires. The second group includes: synthetic aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) and alcohol resistant aqueous film forming foams (AR-AFFF) and fluoroprotein foams (FP), a type of biodegradable foam based on animal or other protein sources with the addition of a fluorinated surfactant. Both AFFF and AR-AFFF contain the fluorosurfactants perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). Both of these are readily absorbed by the body after ingestion and are very slowly eliminated. Since the late 1990s, PFOA and PFOS have been a focus of concern over their potentially harmful effects on human health and the environment.”
Material Safety Data sheets have been in existence for a long time. What good salesman would sell a dangerous product without explaining that it may have risks to the user? Ethical seller of chemicals for instance would have a moral duty to disclose and have had for (arguably) hundreds of years.
The Original Comprehensive Occupational Health and Safety Act in Victoria was in 1985 and whilst a search of the Act does not mention the word Chemical we all know that chemicals are Hazardous and that is the language used.
This interesting academic document discusses the History of Material Safety data Sheets (MSDS)
In the Joy Report the first mention of Material Safety Data sheets is in 1996 on page 123/169.
“a decision was taken to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and to label all dangerous goods; “
Documents relating to the Joy enquiry. Those scrutinised and those not, due to time constraints.
“The IFI was able to identify and review a number of key, known documents from the outset of its work obtained directly from CFA or key participants. However, the IFI received most of the documentation from the KordaMentha search from mid-April 2012. By the beginning of May, approximately 30,000 potentially relevant documents were provided to IFI. These were further reviewed and some 8,000 deemed most relevant were examined through a qualitative analysis system (outlined below). A process was established to escalate documents most likely to be relevant to the Investigation. By the end of May a further 50,000 documents were provided by KordaMentha. This largely reflects the size and complexity of the search process. Through May the Investigation scaled back review of documents to focus on the KordaMentha database will be passed to CFA following the Investigation. KordaMentha also undertook an extensive search of electronic documents but, this was not completed in time for the Investigation to consider. However, the Investigation believes the majority of the key documents from the period of interest, 1971-1999, were hard copies and would have been discovered through the search and interview process.
Where potentially relevant documents were identified, these were electronically scanned and labelled by specialist contractors, and stored in a Relativity database by KordaMentha and accessed solely by the IFI.
This scanning process presented challenges – such as scanning fragile, bound books or microfiches – and extended the timeframe until the documents were available to the Investigation. KordaMentha has also captured and stored documents produced in the course of the Investigation, including documents provided by EPA, WorkSafe, participants and researchers.
A single, secure, electronic repository of documents potentially relevant to the Terms of Reference is a major legacy of the Investigation. As well as providing a key resource for the Investigation, KordaMentha’s work will provide CFA with an accurate catalogue of many of its most critical records, which can be readily searched, and electronic copies of important degrading historical documents. This database will be provided to CFA following the Investigation.”
The relevance of this document quote from the Joy Report becomes readily apparent when we read of the limitations on his report. Page 32/169
“Key Limitations of the Investigation
While the Chair considers a thorough investigation has been conducted
in response to the Terms of Reference, there were a number of
significant limitations which have been canvassed in this chapter.
Key limitations include:
n The administrative nature of the Investigation, and therefore the
lack of ability to compel witnesses or documents
n The short time frame for the Investigation relative to its complexity
n The extensive, complex document search required
n The large, sensitive interview program undertaken
n Seeking to reconstruct events and practices which occurred over
the past forty years
n The lack of documentation of informal and historical practices
n The challenge for witnesses to recall matters that happened so far
in the past.”
Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee Inquiry into the CFA Training College at Fiskville
Following the change of Government in November 2014, the incoming Andrews Labor Government instigated the above Inquiry on 23rd December 2014.
The Interim report was tabled in June 2015
Before the final report however a special report on the non production of documents was released in November 2015.
Their final report was tabled in Parliament on 24thMay 2016. It is 528 pages long.
It is instructive to note that this was nearly a month after the Liberal party had registered the Hands off the CFA website.
The terms of reference were simple.
- a comprehensive historical study of pollution, contamination and unsafe activities at Fiskville between 1970 and the present day;
- a study of the health impacts on employees, residents and visitors between 1970 and the present day;
- a study of the role of past and present executive management at Fiskville;
- an assessment of the feasibility of decontamination/rectification of the training site; and
- recommendations as necessary to mitigate ongoing harm and to provide justice to victims and their families.
* On 10 March 2016, the reporting date was extended to 16 May 2016.
Yet although the Joy Inquiry did an enormous job on collecting collating and making an electronic database of documents, The Board minutes, which were requested by the Committee of Inquiry, were not produced.
The Special Report states at page 8/28.
“The CFA Administration has issued many assurances to the Committee that it wants to cooperate with the Fiskville Inquiry. In spite of this the Committee had to issue summonses in order to access critical information. We are now forced to table this report to Parliament due to documents not being produced under the terms of the summons relating to CFA Board papers.
This special report details the extensive withholding of information that is crucial to the Committee’s understanding about what happened at Fiskville from 1970 to the present.
These documents and information being withheld go to the very heart of the terms of reference we are required by Parliament to investigate. For example, we know that requests for information regarding chemicals used at Fiskville were made to the board in 1987. Yet as the report demonstrates, the CFA has not provided any of the minutes from the 22 meetings held that year.”
The chemicals used at Fiskville and their characteristics.
For years Governments and Agencies have known that the characteristics of chemicals are an important factor to the Health and well being of Human beings. This is illustrated by the use of chemical agents in the first war to gain advantage over the enemy.
1/ Isn’t it a logical conclusion that the use of Chlorine in the first War, with the damage it can cause that such specific knowledge would have been transferred to the training College at Fiskville, where chlorine was also used in training?
2/ And that the Management of the CFA would have been wary of the use of chemicals when they had this specific entrenched knowledge in the Australia/Victorian psyche?
3/ Why, when a large relational database had been assembled under the Joy Inquiry, the CFA management refused, under a summons of the Parliament to produce documents?
4/ Why, when it has now been well established that the chemicals in the type of foam used in training at Fiskville ( ie PFC’s (Perflorinated Chemicals), notably PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonate ) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are stably persistent and their use has been banned, did the CFA not give the Parliamentary enquiry access to their database?
For the assistance of the readers this link goes to the material Safety Data sheet of perfluorooctanoic acid.
On the same website there is an abstract of Studies in Japan which conclude (Report of 2005) that these substances cause cancer.
Whilst these links may not be conclusive evidence of their adverse nature to human inhalation, ingestion or skin contact, the reports are worrying.
5/ There is however a much more important question about one of the 14 Previous CFA Board’s stated objection (In clause 78 of the EBA) to the use of Potable (essentially clean drinking water) in the training environment that the UFU wanted?
Why, after two Enquiries and Health and Environmental Studies; where it was proven that Fiskville was contaminated with PFOS and PFOA contaminants in the Dams used to store firefighting (recycled) water, did they object so strongly, when they had themselves (that is the CFA) installed two tanks (Capacity 240,000 each) in June and October 2012 at the Fiskville facility so as not to use the contaminated Dam run off from the fire training area and which used potable water for training?
This only covers Chemical Contamination. What biological hazards does non – potable water used in training contain?
6/ In light of the above what lessons have the Board and management learned of occupational Health and Safety priorities of an employer? (Oh&S Act Victoria of 1985).
It is only recently that the MFB have had uniforms which have a barrier so that fluids cannot flow into or out of the uniform at a fire ground. Because of the UFU, the whole of MFB and CFA are now issued with this Personal Protective Equipment.
7/ Consultation about equipment for use on a fire ground: Isn’t it a good idea to let the people who fight the fires actually have a say in the choice of the best equipment to drive to a fire and fight it?
That is the way I read the consultation clause. Didn’t the CFA want to consult with their experts as to the best of equipment? The choice of the best equipment is actually a cost saving exercise, the quicker the brigade can get to a fire and put it out, the lower the cost to the community and it’s also much safer.
8/ Michaelia Cash and 7 on the fire ground.
On 12th August the new CFA board and the UFU issued a joint statement of intent on how this clause would work.
Here is the wording of that joint statement.
Seven on the fire ground
6.It is the mutual intention of the parties that clause 77.5, 43.2.7 and 44.13 of the Agreement operates in the following manner:
The clause only relates to integrated stations in districts 2, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15 and 27, and toWarrnambool, Shepparton and Mildura once the additional resources to achieve seven professional fire fighter positions per shift in Schedule 1 are in place.
The requirement only applies to professional fire fighters, it does not prevent volunteers from providing the services normally provided by volunteers.
In the integrated stations where the provision applies, it requires a minimum of seven professional fire fighters to be dispatched to fire ground incidents before commencement of safe fire fighting operations. It does not require seven professional fire fighters to be physically at the fire ground before the commencement of fire fighting operations.
Incident controllers maintain their discretion as to the management of resources in the interests of public safety after undertaking a risk assessment/size up upon arrival at the fire/incident.
9/ The role of volunteers.
This is covered in clauses 7A.1 and 7A.2 in the EBA.
7A THE ROLE OF VOLUNTEERS
7A.1 The role of volunteers in fighting bushfires and maintaining community safety and delivering high quality services to the public in remote and regional areas and in integrated stations, is not altered by this Agreement.
7A.2 For the avoidance of doubt, except as provided in Clause 60- Peer Support, nothing in this agreement shall prevent volunteers in the CFA from providing the services normally provided by such volunteers without remuneration.
So in part A Nothing in the agreement to do with Volunteers is altered and in part B NOTHING shall prevent volunteers in the CFA etc.
What part of that don’t the previous Board or the VFBV board not understand?
10/ The calling in of the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission by the previous CFA board to rule on the legality of the EBA.
Why did they do this? Any problems that the EBA might pose would only affect Professional fire fighters, because (apart from Part 6, Sexual harassment), the Equal Opportunity Act does not cover volunteers.
11/ in light of the clause 7A.1 and 7A.2 above and the revelations about the Equal Opportunity Act not covering Volunteers, why are the Prime Minister and the Employment Minister seeking to amend the Fair Work Act to protect the CFA Volunteers when they do not need protecting because the EBA has nothing whatsoever to do with them?
12/ Why when the Liberal Party formed Government under Bailleau and then Napthine, did they amend the Equal Opportunity Act to cover Part 6 (Sexual harassment) and not cover volunteers under the whole Act?
13/ Why did the Liberal Party register the website handsoffthecfa (now blank) on 28th April 2016 before the Federal Election was called? Why did Malcolm Turnbull become involved? Why did the VFBV employ a graphic artist who produced the hands off the CFA Posters which are available for download on their website? These were produced on 3rd June 2016.
14/ And finally again Why did the Board refuse to give the documents of their Board Meetings to the Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry? What had they to hide? Is the whole thing a “Look over there exercise?” Was Daniel Andrews correct to sack an unresponsive board?
I leave you to ponder the answers to these Questions.
Even Erin Brockovitch is up with the scandal of these Fir Fighting chemicals in our environment
I see this EBA dispute as no different from the demonising of the Union movement by the Liberal Party. Their cynical use of a group of ordinary people who only want to help their communities is a disgrace. They pretend to care about volunteers but the most damning thing about their actions is that when in Government they amended the Equal Opportunity Act to cover volunteers for only one part.
They only care about Occupational Health and Safety when they can get political advantage from it. They certainly don’t care about the CFA volunteers and have tricked them big time.
Meanwhile Liberal Dog whistle politics about the Unions go on apace.