CFA volunteers have been given toxic firefighting foam this bushfire season that career fire officers are banned from using because it contains dangerous chemicals.
The foam was pulled from CFA fire trucks in 1997 after studies linked it to serious health problems such as infertility, blood and bone marrow disorders and dermatitis.
Paid CFA firefighters working on the recent Grampians bushfires stumbled on the banned stocks in the volunteers’ firefighting arsenal and noticed a teenage volunteerdeveloped a serious rash.
The CFA yesterday denied there was any health risk attached to any of its foams.
It is understood the CFA bought a large batch of the banned foam last summer when it ran out of the usual product, known as First Class. The banned substance — Forexpan S — was brought into the stateto get through last summer’sfires.
Unlike the banned foam, First Class does not contain a compound considered hazardous to human health.
The CFA decided to give the banned foam tovolunteers to use till stocks ran out. An internal CFA email warned managers to be “considerate of the heightened sensitivities” surrounding what “could be perceived as special treatment for our career staff”.
“Where we can, let’s use up this Forexpan S stock during these fires to get it off our books so we can then revert back using First Class,” the email dated January 30 stated. The CFA says both foams are equally safe and that use of First Class “simply comes down to an agreement of brand of foam to be used”.
An October 1997 article in the Ballarat Courier said the CFA had banned its use because it “may present major health risks”.
Geelong City CFA brigade senior station officer Pat Geary said he and CFA management knew the foam was unsafe. The 52-year-old was paid WorkCover compensation after developing a chronic skin disorder after trial use of the foam in the mid-1990s. He said when he went to give blood, they turned him down because of a low red blood cell count.
He was a strike team leader at the Grampians fire when staff discovered the Forexpan S stocks. “I’m disappointed that the CFA didn’t have the common courtesy to advise us.”
CFA spokesman Craig Rowston said Forexpan S was used by other fire authorities.