Bans on the use of 3M AFFF foam concentrate are now lifted on the strict proviso that the foam is used only on major ‘B’ class fires and only where no other method of extinguishment is available – until all of the sub standard foam is replaced. All pumping appliances will now carry at least one drum of ‘clean’ foam concentrate and any member using the 3M AFFF concentrate is to be immediately decontaminated onsite and should fill in a near miss form.
This morning the Department called the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) into the dispute by claiming the public had been put at risk through FBEU bans on 3M AFFF foam. It was quickly established that the Union‘s concerns are very real and backed up by substantial scientific evidence from around the world. The Department argued that nearly all of its foam was banned and that if a major ‘B’ class fire occurred it did not have the equipment to extinguish the fire.
The IRC was then faced with the impossible task of choosing between a state with no capacity to extinguish major flammable liquid fires – and ensuring firefighter safety. The IRC chose to insist the Department take the matter seriously, source new supplies of foam as fast as possible and put in place safety procedures that will mitigate the ill effects on firefighter safety. Any member concerned that they may have been exposed to the dangerous levels of perfluoro octanyl sulfonates in the foam will have a blood test made available to them by the Department to identify the level of exposure.
After a week of revelations in just how harmful the 3M foam concentrate can be and exactly how much of the stuff is sitting in fire engines and stations across the state the Union ramped up its bans to force the Department to fulfil its seven year old commitment to withdraw it from service. The foam will now be removed from all fire brigades as quickly and expeditiously as possible and the Department is to report back to the courts on its progress by no latter than 9:30 am on Monday 16th April.
The Union is now expecting that all of the contaminated foam will be removed from brigades across the state within six months and that no firefighter should be unwittingly put at risk from a substance that has a safer alternative. Firefighters like all other workers have a right to expect a healthy and a safe workplace. In some instances that cannot be guaranteed, we take calculated risks when we enter burning buildings, when we mop up unknown chemical spills and when we rescue people from perilous situations. In all other circumstances we need to know that the substances and chemicals we are dealing with are not going to make us sick or shorten our life expectancy.
With the bans now lifted and a commitment to remove the contaminated product from fire brigades as quickly as the new foam can be brought in all members can get back to doing what we are paid for, protecting the community and looking out for the health, safety and welfare of each other and of the community.