Overview

The Terms of Reference require the Board of Inquiry to consider and report on the adequacy and effectiveness of the application and administration of the relevant regulatory regimes in relation to the State’s response to fire at the Hazelwood mine. Further, the Board must consider and report on the adequacy and effectiveness of the measures taken by GDF Suez to be prepared to respond to an outbreak of a fire in the Hazelwood mine.

At the time of the Hazelwood mine fire, the Emergency Management Act 1986 (Vic) and the Emergency Management Manual Victoria governed emergency preparation and planning by the State. It is the application of this regulatory framework that the Board considers in this Chapter. The Emergency Management Act 1986 (Vic) is now in the process of being replaced by the Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic).

A range of internal policies direct the planning measures that GDF Suez must undertake in relation to adequate preparation for emergencies, and specifically mine fires.

The Board heard evidence from fire services personnel regarding the preparation and planning measures adopted by fire services at the incident, regional and state levels. The Board also heard evidence from GDF Suez personnel about the content of various policies and the implementation of preparatory measures prior to the Hazelwood mine fire.

The State was faced with a number of competing resource demands prior to and during the extreme fire conditions on 8 and 9 February 2014. In light of these competing demands, the Board considers that the measures adopted by fire services were generally appropriate. The Board acknowledges that the Traralgon Incident Control Centre was put under significant pressure because the Yarram base Incident Control Centre was not established on 8 and 9 February 2014. That pressure was compounded by the slow delivery of requested additional firefighting resources.

The Board concludes that GDF Suez’s fire planning measures failed to address preventative steps to be taken by mine personnel in the areas of the mine where the reticulated fire service water system was not installed or installed only to a limited extent.

The Board concludes that while fire planning measures were implemented by GDF Suez personnel in accordance with its policies, those plans were prepared on Friday, 7 February 2014 and not updated to reflect the changing and serious conditions when the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire became a significant threat to the Hazelwood mine. Fire planning by GDF Suez failed to reconsider the staffing levels and other protective measures that the mine planned to implement over the weekend. GDF Suez should have increased the number of staff at the mine. GDF Suez should have required senior managers to be onsite to take control of the fire threat to ensure mine operations crews were able to undertake spotting patrols and attend to any fires that did start. GDF Suez should have ensured that personnel designated to take charge in the event of a fire in the mine were adequately prepared.

Further, the Board considers that GDF Suez failed to fully appreciate the risks facing the mine from the Hernes Oak–McDonald’s Track fire. This failure was partly the fault of its personnel. Opportunities to obtain relevant and significant information about fire risks and predictive modelling of the potential fire spread, assuming the fire broke containment lines, were not taken by mine personnel. Equally, information passed on to mine personnel was not communicated in a manner that enabled full comprehension.

GDF Suez is the operator of a brown coal mine in a bushfire prone area. The consequences of a fire in the mine could be, and indeed were, catastrophic. It was therefore critical that the mine was prepared for the fire risks in the most comprehensive manner. The Board considers that GDF Suez did not prepare to the level necessary given the extreme fire risks it was facing on 9 February 2014.

The discussion and conclusions in this Chapter relate only to the application of the preparation measures in the lead up to the Hazelwood mine fire. Discussion on the adequacy and effectiveness of the preparation measures as they were implemented during firefighting are discussed in Chapter 2.3 Fighting the Hazelwood mine fire.