6 March 2024

UPDATE: Mobile police station set up in Gungahlin as emergency services centre remains shut

| Claire Fenwicke
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Gungahlin Joint Emergency Services Centre

All emergency services staff have been relocated from the Gungahlin Joint Emergency Services Centre until further notice. Photo: Laura Liu.

UPDATE 6 March, 9:50 am – Gungahlin residents will again be able to report crimes in person with ACT Policing setting up a mobile front office at the Gungahlin Police Station.

It follows the closure of the Gungahlin Joint Emergency Services Centre (JESC) late last week after lead and diesel contaminants were found in the building (see below).

The mobile police facility will be staffed by officers from 8 am to 8 pm each day and provide basic front office services.

These include enabling members of the public to speak with police, report crimes, and attend for bail requirements.

Justice of the Peace services are expected to also begin at the site in the coming days.

“It is expected this facility will be in place until such time as police are able to return to Gungahlin Police Station,” an ACT Policing statement outlined.

A Justice and Community Safety spokesperson confirmed it was still awaiting results from the testing of “suspected contaminated materials” at the JESC.

“These results, which we expect to receive by next week, will inform our decision regarding any remediation work and re-occupancy of the building,” they said.

“The safety of our emergency services personnel is our top priority. We won’t be relocating staff to the building until we are assured it is safe to do so.”

29 February – Police and firefighter unions have called for an immediate investigation into how lead made its way into the Gungahlin Joint Emergency Services Centre (JESC) and how diesel particulates were allowed to build up to potentially dangerous levels.

The entire building has been closed and staff relocated after routine testing by contractors discovered the contamination on Wednesday (28 February).

Lead was found in the dust on top of ceiling tiles in the roof cavity of one section of the building, while diesel particulates were found in the ESA vehicle standing area.

United Firefighters Union (UFU) ACT branch secretary Greg McConville said the potential staff exposure verged on “culpability”.

“Emergency services personnel working and community members visiting the JESC for decades may have been exposed to deadly lead dust and diesel particulates on a daily basis,” he said.

“Firefighters are exposed to carcinogens at incidents throughout their careers, and it verges on culpability that they have been further exposed to carcinogens and neurotoxins at a fire station where exposure is avoidable.

“This extended exposure may have severely, permanently, and potentially fatally impacted the health of emergency services personnel who’ve worked at the JESC over several years.”

He called for immediate workplace safety monitoring at all emergency services facilities and for health monitoring of personnel.

Health monitoring for firefighters was agreed to in 2020, but it still hasn’t happened. It’s a priority for ESA Commissioner Wayne Phillips, who hopes it will be in place by the end of the year.

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Mr McConville said the UFU had written to Worksafe ACT urging an investigation into this incident with a “view to prosecution”.

“If these toxins have been allowed to accumulate unnoticed at Gungahlin, it is probable that the duty to monitor conditions at other fire and emergency facilities has been neglected. Any investigation must call up all records of monitoring conducted at other fire stations,” he said.

“Upon completion of the inquiry’s report, serious consideration must be given to prosecuting those individuals or organisations responsible for creating the JESC contamination issue and those who, through negligence or dereliction of responsibility, permitted it to continue for such an extended period in a manner that has now potentially undermined the health and well-being of hundreds of emergency services personnel.”

The Gungahlin JESC is the fourth newest fire station in the ACT; some older fire stations date back to the 1960s.

ACT UFU secretary Greg McConville

ACT UFU secretary Greg McConville wants all of Canberra’s fire stations tested as part of investigations into the contamination at the Gungahlin JESC. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana also said the ACT Government needed to prioritise ACT Policing accommodation across the Territory.

City Station and the Watch House have serious issues, and who knows how long the Watch House will remain open for?” he said.

“Woden Station, the second newest police station in the ACT, which was built in 2005, also has concerns that we are talking to the government about.

“The accommodation for ACT Policing hasn’t been a priority for the ACT Government for some time, and all the band-aid methods they’ve used to cover the cracks over the years are starting to catch up.”

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The unexplained presence of lead in the building was of particular concern to ESA Commissioner Phillips.

“Lead in buildings in this age is very uncommon,” he said.

Fire and Rescue has been moved to the Charnwood Fire Station, paramedics will operate from West Belconnen and Dickson, and Gungahlin SES volunteers will be located in Belconnen.

Gungahlin police officers have relocated to the former traffic operations centre in Belconnen.

Rural Fire Service workers will remain at the JESC, working from demountables in the car park.

Commissioner Phillips was sure there would be no impact on the services the community receives or on their safety.

“I’m confident [this] won’t have an impact on response times,” he said.

He said while diesel was a known hazard of the job, Commissioner Phillips said none of his staff would return to the building until he was sure it was safe.

“The build-up of diesel particulates is a very dangerous situation for workers inside of the building, so we’re looking at cleaning diesel particulates [from the building] going forward before we move anyone back in,” he said.

“No emergency service worker from the ESA will move back into that building until it is completely safe to do so.”

Testing of other emergency services buildings is not a priority at this stage but is likely to be considered in the coming weeks.

Further testing at the JESC is expected to take a week.

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Police and Emergency Services Shadow Minister James Milligan said it wasn’t good enough that Belconnen was now the only fully functional police station in Canberra’s north.

“This entire debacle with our police and emergency services buildings not being ‘fit for purpose’ has all happened under [Minister Mick Gentleman’s] watch and he has continued to drag his heels on this matter,” he said.

More than $8 million was allocated in the 2020-21 ACT Budget to renovate the JESC.

It’s being done on a stage-by-stage basis, with work expected to finish up by the end of the year.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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