Fire training centre taking heat from chemical cancer claims

Date: Dec 07, 2011

Investigations into a number of cancer-related deaths are focusing on a training facility in Victoria run by the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

The centre in Fiskville – a community located near Ballan – has been in operation for around 40 years, offering accommodation for career fire-fighter trainees and live-fire exercises for corporate clients.

However, it has been alleged that at least 17 people have developed cancer and autoimmune diseases after they were exposed to hazardous chemicals stored at the site.

Speaking to the ABC, former fire chief Brian Potter said that he first thought his medical ailments were just a case of bad luck – but he now believes that the compounds used at the Fiskville base may have been responsible

Potter asserted: “It is probably only in these last few months as a result of reading some material about what was affecting the fire-fighters of New York following 9/11, that I began to see some relationship between what had happened to us at Fiskville.”

The former CFA member also expressed concerns for his fellow fire-fighters who attended development sessions at the centre.

“We had thousands of students who were trained at Fiskville and all of them had some exposure to the oils and flammable liquids that we were using.”

The materials used in the exercises included benzene – which at the time was seen as a cheaper alternative to petrol for live fire sessions.

While the drums containing the carcinogenic substance have since been buried, there remain some concerns that it could leach in to the water tables – potentially affecting the surrounding community.

Victorian premier Ted Baillieu has said he will back a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the use of benzene and other hazardous substances at the site.

“I’ve visited Fiskville myself, I know the training centre and I know the commitment that CFA volunteers put in, and particularly those who do the extra training,” said Baillieu.

Potter is understood to be considering legal action, but it is unknown at this time whether or not he has contacted a compensation lawyer.

CFA chief executive Mick Bourke echoed this commitment to an in-depth report into the matter, saying that the association would treat the concerns “seriously”.

Bourke stated: “We need to conduct an investigation and if there are matters there pertaining to pollution and they could have had an impact on people, we will redress those.”

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