Time to rebuild: the CFA after Fiskville

FIREFIGHTERS and residents who became sick after they were exposed to toxic chemicals linked to CFA’s contaminated Fiskville training centre are likely to receive compensation under a government redress scheme. 

Close to two years after the discovery of a cancer cluster closed the training base south of Ballan, the state government has agreed to support wholly, in part or in principle all 31 recommendations from the parliamentary inquiry. 

The government will review the CFA’s occupational health and safety policies, ensure potable water is used for firefighter training activities and implement a health study for students and teachers who attended the former Fiskville State School. The CFA backed the response, pledging to continue improving training and operations.

Moorabool Shire Councillor Paul Tatchell labelled the health study “strange” and questioned why testing was needed for a site “ about three to four kilometres” from the training ground. 

“It’s an odd recommendation, given how far away the school is from Fiskville. It’s 3-4 kilometres away and there is a lot of stuff in-between,” he said.  “If they had cause to test that site ... we’re talking about a very large area (that could be contaminated).”

Cr Tatchell praised the call for a redress scheme but said it needed to be “evidence based”.

“I think there should be a compensation scheme for the families that lost their jobs. That should have been done 18 months ago and that could have been done 18 months ago through investment in the region.” 

Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said the government would consider the “many complex issues associated with a redress scheme”, including funding arrangements.

He acknowledged the difficulty of the Fiskville inquiry and said the government was “already acting on the recommendations of the inquiry to make sure our firefighters are safe to work”.  The government has opted to “support in principle” a recommendation  that EPA Victoria conduct regular environmental testing of state firefighting training facilities. 

While Cr Tatchell remains hopeful the planned $46.2 million Central Highlands training facility will be in Ballan he is frustrated by the “drawn-out” process. But, Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the location of the new site should be confirmed, purchased and announced by the end of the year.

Ballan firefighter and newsagent Ian Ireland said he was also hopeful, both as a businessman and a firefighter, that the new training site would be built and developed in Ballan. He said those impacted did deserve compensation. “I think there should be some form of compensation, but the government needs to be clear about how the redress is going to occur and how it will be funded.” 

Firefighters’ union representative Mick Tisbury praised the response, saying “lessons must be learnt from the appalling chapter” in firefighting history. 

“It’s vital that the next step now be implementing the recommendations, particularly those pertaining to protecting the health of firefighters, as quickly as possible.”