UFU Victoria

United Firefighters Union of Australia
Victorian Branch

The Victorian government has today announced that it will introduce jail time and significant financial penalties for reckless toxic dumpers who put community and professional career firefighter safety at risk.

In April, the United Firefighters Union launched a community campaign to raise awareness about the effects of toxic dumping on professional career firefighters.

UFU Branch Secretary Peter Marshall wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews outlining the significant damage caused to the health of career firefighters, as well as the exposure to the community, by the unscrupulous and reckless operators of illegal toxic dumping sites. The Union also requested that the Government implement major deterrents to prevent these illegal practices.

Today’s announcement has been welcomed by Victoria’s career firefighters, as it is a further step by the Andrews Government to protect career firefighters from the illegal activities of toxic waste dumpers. 

Most importantly, the Union welcomes the change to the Dangerous Goods Act, which will introduce a new criminal offence known as Reckless Conduct. This legislative amendment will see individuals face up to 10 years imprisonment, while corporations risk fines up to $6.4 million. “Professional career firefighters already have one of the most dangerous jobs in our community. Illegal dumpers create toxic timebombs that make an already dangerous job unacceptably more dangerous,” Mr Marshall said. “Aside from the exposure to toxic chemicals, not knowing what is in those illegal warehouses is like trying to fight a fire with one arm tied behind your back – it’s unsafe for the firefighters and for the community.

“Illegal dumpers knowingly put our communities and career firefighters at risk, and it is right that they will face jail time. Directors or those associated with the company should also face significant financial penalties, which is incorporated in the new legislation.”

The UFU has been campaigning for a crackdown on illegal dumpers since the West Footscray and Campbellfield warehouse fires left frontline career firefighters suffering adverse health effects, with some leading to hospitalisations. Health problems included bleeding noses, debilitating fatigue, severe headaches, respiratory illness and even meningitis directly attributed to the unnecessary exposures. 

Both fires were a result of illegal dumping or stockpiling of hazardous chemicals and waste. The lack of compliance and reporting forced the responding career firefighters to battle the noxious blazes without full knowledge of what was burning.  

To this day, they still have little knowledge of what they were exposed to. However, what is clear is that a number of professional career firefighters have had their quantity and quality of life affected due to the actions of these illegal dumpers.

Prior to the introduction of Reckless Conduct the handful of successful prosecutions, usually against corporations rather than individuals, had only resulted in modest fines. Peter Marshall is available for comment today on 0419 127 004.