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MFB calls for ban on dangerous spray painting chemicals: Investigation report into Yarraville fire released

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31 Oct 2008
The Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board (MFB) has produced a report

MFB leading firefighter Richard Zapart was critically injured at this fire and the report makes recommendations to enhance the safety of MFB firefighters. These include the ongoing development of personal protective clothing (PPC) and equipment, station wear and operational training.

In the case of Yarraville, MFB firefighters were confronted with an extraordinary fire at a furniture factory in Yarraville. The cause of the fire was a spontaneous ignition because of a chemical build up in the spray room. This was due to poor housekeeping and the exhaust extraction systems not maintained or cleaned. Testing by the CSIRO indicate that the damage to the uniform worn by the injured firefighter was mostly caused by exposure to temperatures in the range of 442° to 601°.

The report found that the circumstances around this are extremely rare and the attending MFB crews acted in an exemplary and brave manner. On-scene attention and support provided by colleagues was critical to leading firefighter Zapart’s survival. Leading firefighter Zapart is continuing to undergo extensive rehabilitation at home. He has received ongoing support from his colleagues, the MFB and the United Firefighters’ Union.

Following the incident, the MFB has introduced a range of safety measures, including the introduction of the new personal protective clothing for operational firefighters. The role out of the new protective clothing began in early June this year, and most on-shift MFB firefighters covering around 1500 personnel now have the uniform, they are due to receive three sets of the clothing in three stages, the second set by Christmas and the final set by June next year.

Copies of the report and findings have been forwarded to the Victorian Coroner’s Office in conjunction with Victoria Police.

The MFB is also seeking to partner with WorkSafe Victoria to initially raise awareness in parts of the furniture industry of the potential fire dangers, volatility and environmental risks covering the use of nitrocellulose lacquers, which contributed to the extreme nature of this fire.

The Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Board, in endorsing the report, requested it be made publicly available, and that the Chief Executive Officer of the MFB pursue with rigour, through WorkSafe Victoria, the factory owners who allowed this incident to occur, resulting in serious injury to one of our firefighters.

It should be noted the use of these lacquers is banned in European jurisdictions, and the MFB believes this should be the same in Australia.

Acting Chief Fire Officer(ACFO) Michael Walker said,” No firefighters should be exposed to fire behaviour like this when it is caused by unsafe practices within industry, as there is never a guarantee that protective equipment of any kind can protect our people from such extreme temperatures.”

“The MFB believes that it is lucky no workers at the furniture factory were injured or killed,” he said.

ACFO Walker said, “Both the MFB, and United Firefighters Union management are united in their support for injured firefighter Richard Zapart. We request that people respect his and his family’s privacy, but thank colleagues, the organisations and the public who have given tremendous support through this ordeal.”

The MFB is satisfied that the report read as a whole provides an accurate and balanced account of the incident.

For further information, please contact the Media and Communications Department on (03) 9665 4394 or media@mfb.vic.gov.au

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