A long-awaited report into potentially harmful chemicals used at the Country Fire Authority’s Fiskville training facility says the organisation reacted too slowly to concerns about cancer risks.
A team of investigators has been looking into reports of cancer cases linked to the chemicals used for live firefighting training at the Ballan centre, west of Melbourne, between 1971 and 1999.
The firefighters union says at least 15 people linked to the Fiskville training facility have died.
The report, by Professor Robert Joy, found the CFA failed to respond adequately to the concerns, and CFA chief executive Mick Bourke says he is disappointed by his organisation’s response.
Mr Bourke says while the report found the vast majority of people who trained, visited or lived at Fiskville faced a low to negligible risk from the exposure, more could have been done.
“The CFA and the board of CFA particularly believe that we haven’t done well enough in that era,” he said.
“We regret many of those practices.
“We can’t change the past. But we can learn from the past, and we can take responsibility now.”
He says the CFA has committed to implementing all 10 recommendations and has announced a number of other initiatives, including a health impact study.
Mr Bourke says those affected may be entitled to compensation.
“When you read the report, it’s not kind. It’s very blunt. It puts evidence on the table that says if we had a duty of care it’s probably breached,” Mr Bourke said.
“If there’s a proven link and it’s affected the health of our people then there’d be an entitlement to some recourse to compensation in the process.”
The CFA has announced additional support and wellbeing services for any other workers who may have been considered to be at high risk of exposure.
The report has also recommended further soil testing and possible remediation work at the site.
However it says there is no need to close the site.
The United Firefighters Union’s Peter Marshall paid tribute to Brian Potter, a former chief fire officer at the CFA who blew the whistle on the practices.
“He had to drag them screaming and kicking into the arena of public opinion to make them accountable,” he said.