Implementation of fire planning by GDF Suez

FIRE PREPARATION PLANNING

Given the conditions forecast, and the declaration of a total fire ban for the weekend of 8 and 9 February 2014, at 11.36 am on 7 February 2014, GDF Suez issued a Safety Blimp message to all staff noting that mine operations would be restricted, including prohibiting any hot works within the mine (for example, welding and grinding).171

At 12.50 pm on 7 February 2014, GDF Suez issued a Hazelwood Mine Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plan (Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plan) for each of 8 and 9 February 2014. The Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plans indicate that at the time of their issue, there were no externally sourced fires near the mine.172

The Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plans called for certain fire prevention measures to be implemented from the commencement of the 7 am shift each day, including:

  • all personnel on high alert
  • fully hosing up all unmanned machines
  • checking all pumps and the east header spears
  • relocating portable sprays if necessary
  • turning sprays on intermittently
  • conducting patrols
  • having fire tankers filled and on standby.173

The Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plans did not record any action for wetting down areas within the mine that were not covered by the reticulated fire services water system, with the possible exception of portable sprays. Mr David Shanahan, GDF Suez Services Superintendent, told the Board that the general practice for fire protection was to only wet down the operational levels of the mine as they were the areas that contained mine assets. The northern batters, containing highly combustible coal, were not protected by the application of water either by sprays or some other method, because of the absence of critical assets in these areas. Mr Shanahan noted that the clay covering of the levels in the northern batters offered some fire protection but the batters were exposed to the risk of fire.174

Mr Alan Roach, GDF Suez Security and Emergency Services Manager, was the ESLO rostered on for the weekend of 8 and 9 February 2014. Mr Ian Wilkinson, GDF Suez 2×12 Mine Shift Supervisor, was also rostered on for that weekend. Mr Wilkinson was the only person rostered on that day who could fill the role of Emergency Commander in the event of a fire in the mine. There were no formal standby arrangements in place for senior management to fill the Emergency Organisation structure at the mine if fire did break out over the weekend. The other persons listed as Emergency Commanders were planning to and did leave Morwell for the weekend, along with other senior mine managers who were not rostered on.175 Mr Garry Wilkinson, GDF Suez Mine Director, was on leave in Queensland.176 Mr James Faithful, GDF Suez Technical Services Manager – Mine and Acting Mine Director, was in Inverloch.177 Mr Dugan was in Mallacoota.178 Mr Kemsley was not on site.179

Mr Harkins gave evidence to the Board that he did not turn his mind to whether it was desirable for the Mine Manager or Acting Mine Manager to be on site on Saturday and Sunday in light of the extreme fire risk.180

By 4.45 pm on 7 February 2014, GDF Suez personnel were aware of the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire.181 Notwithstanding the new outbreak of fire in close proximity to the mine, the Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plans were not revised or reissued to take into account the changing circumstances.182

Mr Harkins spoke with Mr Roach about the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire that afternoon and directed him to obtain a briefing from the mine’s security contractors, Diamond Protection, to understand the likely threat facing the mine.183 There was no evidence from Mr Roach as to whether or not that briefing took place on 7 February 2014. There was no evidence that Mr Harkins spoke with Mr Wilkinson about his readiness to assume the position of Emergency Commander in the event of fire in the mine, given that all other designated Emergency Commanders listed in the Emergency Response Plan would not be on site.

ASSESSMENT OF THE FIRE RISKS ON 8 AND 9 FEBRUARY 2014

Part of Mr Roach’s role as ESLO was to keep informed of the fire risks facing the mine.

On 8 and 9 February 2014, Mr Roach monitored the CFA website and received information from the Chair of the CGEIG.

At 4.29 pm on 8 February 2014, the Chair of the CGEIG forwarded an email sent to him by the Incident Control Centre to Mr Roach which attached a Phoenix Rapidfire model provided by the Traralgon Incident Control Centre. The email stated:

Team

This is latest mapping from the Phoenix model at 01:00 hours tomorrow night worst case scenario this may be the fire protection.184

Mr Roach says that he did not understand the Phoenix Rapidfire model.185 He contacted the Chair of the CGEIG to obtain a better understanding of its meaning. After discussing it with the CGEIG Chair, Mr Roach understood the model to represent the worst-case fire scenario as at 1 am on Monday 10 February 2014. On that basis, he considered he had time to further investigate what the Phoenix Rapidfire model predicted for the following day.186

Mr Roach then forwarded the Phoenix Rapidfire model by email to Mr Harkins.187 In the email to Mr Harkins, Mr Roach articulated his plan to get more information in the morning. He also indicated that he was not intending to share the information with either Mr Dugan or Mr Shanahan. Mr Roach did not send the Phoenix Rapidfire model to other GDF Suez personnel involved more closely with emergency command.188

By way of email in response, Mr Harkins indicated that he did not understand the Phoenix Rapidfire model but surmised that it showed the mine’s northern batters on fire. Notwithstanding this response, Mr Harkins evidence was to the effect that he thought it was reasonable for Mr Roach not to approach Mr Dugan or Mr Shanahan and to wait for more information the following day.189 Mr Harkins accepted that he did not have an appreciation of the risk that the mine was facing on the evening of 8 February 2014.190

On 9 February 2014 at around 11.30 am, Mr Roach again spoke with the Chair of the CGEIG to obtain an update on information garnered that morning from the Traralgon Incident Control Centre. Having discussed the fire threat the evening prior, Mr Roach’s evidence was that he was told that there was no change to the weather forecast and that the wind change was still expected to come through in the afternoon. Mr Roach couldn’t recall whether they discussed the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire. Supplemented by his own reviews of the CFA website that day, Mr Roach told the Board he remained comfortable with the mine’s fire plans for that day and had no cause to be concerned about the modelling predictions he had received the previous day, notwithstanding that he still did not understand the modelling after discussions with the CGEIG Chair.191

There was no evidence before the Board that Mr Roach received any other Phoenix Rapidfire modelling in relation to fire entering the mine earlier than 1 am on Monday 10 February 2014.192 The Board heard evidence from Mr Jeremiah that multiple Phoenix Rapidfire models had been prepared over the course of 8 and 9 February 2014 and that these had been provided to the CGEIG.193 There was evidence from Mr Harkins that, had he seen the Phoenix Rapidfire models showing fire escape at 9 am and 11 am on 9 February 2014, he would have reacted differently, notwithstanding his evidence that he did not understand the modelling.194

FIRE PROTECTION MEASURES BETWEEN 7–9 FEBRUARY 2014

In the late afternoon on 7 February 2014, GDF Suez personnel undertook additional water spraying and deployed spotting teams following news of the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire.195 Two graders and two dozers were positioned on the north-western boundary of the mine in anticipation of the threat from the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire.196

The shifts commencing at the Hazelwood mine at 7 am on 8 and 9 February 2014 were being managed in accordance with the Fire Preparedness and Mitigation Plan issued on 7 February 2014.197 Throughout the course of the day, GDF Suez employees wetted down the operational areas of the mine in accordance with the Plan.198 In addition to the usual rostered staff, two contractors were rostered on for Saturday 8 February 2014 and Sunday 9 February 2014 from 7 am, each responsible for a 30,000 litre water cart to dampen down the coal and respond to any fires if required.199

During the morning of 9 February 2014, there were 35 GDF Suez personnel rostered on or on call at the Hazelwood mine, including contractors from RTL Mining and Earthworks Pty Ltd and Diamond Protection.200 The 1×7 crew were conducting maintenance checks on the fire service network and water sprays.201

Around 12.30 pm, Mr Roach arrived at the mine. He visited the mine control centre and discussed the fires in the area and the sprinklers that had been activated.202 At 12.45 pm, Mr Roach went to the Mine Training Centre to open and clean it up for use in the event of a fire.203

Just after 1 pm, Mr Wilkinson informed the 1×7 crew that the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire had flared up, so further preparations began at the mine for the approach of fire.204 GDF Suez personnel began to patrol the perimeter of the mine above the northern batters and to operate the fire response vehicles.205 Mr Wilkinson directed GDF Suez personnel to turn on all sprays along 1 level of the northern batters that were not already on, and to patrol the northern batters around 1 level with furphies to look for embers.206 The Delta water cart (35,000 litre tanker) was also called upon to monitor the mine’s perimeter.207 Additionally, the 1×7 crew installed fire-breaks along the grass level on the western perimeter and in the north-western perimeter of the mine’s boundary parallel to the Strzelecki Highway using graders.208

At 1.40 pm GDF Suez’s security contractor, Diamond Protection, recorded a call to the CFA in its telephone log.209 The Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority records produced to the Board do not identify any calls reporting fire in the mine.210 None of the GDF Suez personnel who gave evidence to the Board indicated that they had personally called 000.211

At some time between approximately 1.30 pm and 2 pm, Mr Shanahan, Mr Matthew Weddell, GDF Suez Mine Production Superintendent, and Mr Romeo Prezioso, GDF Suez Senior Mine Planner, arrived at the mine, notwithstanding that they were not rostered on that day, due to concerns they each had about the fires nearby.212

At around 2 pm, the mine control centre announced a Fire Alert in response to the first mine fire being reported (see Chapter 2.1 Origin and circumstances of the Hazelwood mine fire).213 At about the same time, the gate to the north of the mine at Depot Drilling Road was opened to enable the CFA to obtain access to the mine if necessary.214

At approximately 2 pm, Mr Shanahan observed the Driffield fire and concluded that it was likely to threaten the Hazelwood mine.215