Bellevue chemical fire site sale

Stoneville volunteer firefighter Greg Jones is concerned that firefighters were exposed tothe plume from a chemical fire. Picture: David Baylis.
Stoneville volunteer firefighter Greg Jones is concerned that firefighters were exposed tothe plume from a chemical fire. Picture: David Baylis.

A FORMER contaminated site is being cleaned up for sale by the State Government.

The site was the scene of a severe and potentially dangerous chemical fire in 2001 and has been capped with a preventative seal since.

At the time of the fire, some, but not all residents, were evacuated from Bellevue.

In 2002, a Four Corners episode on the ABC about the fire and the aftermath described it as the worst chemical fire Australia had seen.

Firefighters at the time, who were called from geographically close stations, were concerned that some volunteers had been sent to the grassfire nearby and were not wearing breathing equipment or protective clothing.

“They were sent to fight a grass fire but they were breathing in the chemicals from the explosion and they were downwind of the smoke plume on the flanks,” Stoneville volunteer firefighter Greg Jones said.

Those sent from DFES to the chemical fire had been instructed to wear protective suits and masks.

At the time of the chemical fire, Mr Jones was the Stoneville Volunteer Fire Brigade captain and responded to the call from DFES to attend a bushfire which was in the block next to the chemical fire.

“We did not know it had been started by the chemical drums exploding until at least 24 hours later,” Mr Jones said.

“Firefighters were standing downwind of the plume on the flanks and water from the fire was pouring out of ducts into the Helena River.”

Volunteer firefighter John Longley said he was standing up to his waist in the water as he tried to put out the grassfire.

“I felt responsible when I found out because the health effects were reported when the symptoms started to appear,” Mr Jones said. “I had sent them to the fire but we had not been told it was related to the chemical fire.”

Mr Jones said the firefighters suffered from things like unexplained bruising on the skin, bleeding from the nose and ear for weeks at a time and respiratory issues.

He said he was absolutely disgusted by the way the health authorities managed the monitoring of volunteers and former residents since the incident.

“The health of those fighting the fire should have been managed by the Health Department but it has been managed by DFES. Every five years they use a different control group which means the results are watered down and not indicative of what is really occurring with their health,” he said.

“You wouldn’t get the Health Department to fight a fire so why are you asking the fire brigade to monitor the health of the fire fighters.”

Mr Jones later spent five months preparing a report for the Government inquiry and sat through the inquiry as it was presented to State Parliament.

Former State MP Gordon Masters said at the time of the report being tabled that “but for the serendipity of favourable weather conditions, this could have been a catastrophic incident”.

It is not known how many people have registered at the Department of Environment and Health Department with suspected illnesses since the fire 14 years ago.

Midland MLA Michelle Roberts said many of the people who lived in Bellevue at the time of the fire had moved out.

“They don’t live here anymore which makes it hard to monitor their health if they have not registered with health department,” she said.

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