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Chemical emergency: anywhere, anytime - Victoria’s fire services encourage people to shelter inside

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23 Aug 2011
Outside and smell gas? See a chemical explosion? Downwind of a toxic plume? Then stay inside.

That’s the advice of Victoria’s fire services, which launched the new public safety message at Coode Island, 20 years to the day since the major chemical explosion that threatened the CBD and Melbourne’s inner west with a toxic cloud for two days.

Victoria’s Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the Coode Island explosion is the chemical emergency that looms largest in the minds of Victorians.

“But the fact is a chemical emergency can happen anywhere, anytime, as the result of a fire, explosion or a chemical spill at a fixed site, or from a road or train accident,” Mr Lapsley said.

He said the new Shelter-in-Place approach is best-practice in chemical emergency management.

“Significant research conducted by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the Country Fire Authority and ChemCentre has demonstrated that the best way to protect yourself in a chemical emergency is to shelter inside, shut all windows and doors and turn off any ventilation systems, and listen to emergency service broadcasts.”

The Shelter-in-Place research project was funded $240,000 over a two-year period by the Australian Government through the Victorian Emergency Management Grants program and administered by the Victorian Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner.

MFB Chief Executive Officer Nick Easy said evacuation was not the safest option when exposed to a short-term release of toxic chemicals.

“The fresh air inside a building can provide protection for several hours, therefore the shelter-in-place directive is the best response,” he said.

“In an emergency, updates – through all the usual emergency services broadcasters – would be regular, and the public would be informed when it is safe to open windows and doors, or leave their home again.

“Communication with the community is paramount in any emergency and we will let the community know either directly through emergency workers knocking on doors or via the media of the status of a chemical incident.”

CFA Barwon South West Regional Commander John Mealia, said Shelter-in-Place was an important option for residents living in areas serviced by CFA, including much of metropolitan Melbourne and many large regional centres.

“The enormous Tritech oil and lubricants fire at Dandenong South, which CFA responded to in May, showed how large smoke plumes can have an impact on surrounding suburbs.” Mr Mealia said.

“However, it’s important the community does not confuse shelter-in-place during a chemical spill or a toxic smoke plume, with actions required when there is a threat of bushfire, such as leaving early or remaining in a well prepared property.”

For more information please contact: MFB Media & Communications on 9665 4699 or

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