Monday, November 12, 2012

Fire service helicopter mistakenly used raw sewage to extinguish blaze

A fire service investigation is under way in Australia after untreated water from a sewage plant was dumped on volunteer firefighters battling a blaze on the mid-north coast. Up to 50 firefighters and four aircraft were working on the bushfire at Kew, near Port Macquarie, on Tuesday when a helicopter mistakenly drew up the wastewater from the wrong pond at the nearby sewage treatment plant and dropped it on them.

More than half the firefighters had to be decontaminated, along with their equipment, and were treated by paramedics at the scene. None reported any adverse symptoms from the incident. An RFS spokeswoman said 12 firefighters had been directly exposed to the "secondary treatment" water, while a further seven were in the general area.

"All 29 firefighters on the fireground and their equipment were immediately withdrawn and decontaminated by Fire and Rescue NSW," the spokeswoman said. "As a precaution, each firefighter has since been provided with further medical follow-up. At this time, no firefighters have complained of any ill-effects. They will continue to be monitored by the Rural Fire Service."

The wastewater dumped on the firefighters came from the Kew sewage treatment plant run by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council. A council staff member said employees had been advised not to comment on the incident because it had been under the management of the RFS. "We weren't in control of it whatsoever so it's not something that we'd comment on," the staff member said.

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