Not in Victoria?
Firefighter fighting chemical fire

Firefighter settles injury claim four years on from West Footscray chemical fire

Published on Posted on

Today, August 30, marks the fourth anniversary of the day that changed veteran firefighter and former Senior Constable with the Victorian Police, Jason Dale’s life as he knew it.

Since a large chemical fire broke out at an industrial warehouse in West Footscray on this day in 2018, Jason suffers issues with his balance, persistent headaches, respiratory difficulties, PTSD, depression, irritability, syncope, unexplained nose bleeds and vomiting.

The now 50-year-old father of three was one of the leading firefighters who fought the extensive blaze for two days without a break.

He and many others were exposed to a cocktail of illicitly stored chemicals that were, and still are, unknown – and suffered serious injuries and illnesses as a result.

Investigations over the years suspect the chemicals to have included benzene, ethyl acetate, acetone, PFAS, BTEX and many more.

During the incident, it’s alleged that Jason’s employer, the Melbourne Fire Brigade, had failed to inform him of the danger of the chemical fire and classify it as a hazardous incident, nor did they undertake air sampling to test and monitor for airborne toxins in the zones Jason was attempting to fight the fire, and failed to replace or replenish breathing apparatus.

It was further alleged there were also no appropriate operational safety zones set up which could have reduced further and unnecessary additional exposure, as well as an area to decontaminate. Further, no relief crews were organised for the first few days and the firefighters were required to eat and walk in the hot zones and directly under the smoke.

And following the fire, it was further alleged there was a failure to adequately sample the chemicals at the scene and provide adequate health monitoring, including blood tests to help determine what chemicals they were exposed to.

While emergency services workers like Jason risk injury or illness every time they go to work to protect the community, it was alleged that the employer’s handling of this event was not reflective of appropriate workplace health and safety precautions – which if implemented could have reduced the risk of injury to Jason and his colleagues, who were simply doing their job protecting others.

Jason had been a firefighter for 13 years before this incident. He loved his job and found it immensely rewarding. But when his injuries and illnesses his family had hoped were only short-term effects didn’t subside, Jason lodged a workers’ compensation claim.

“For me, it took a long time and a lot of heartache to come to the realisation that my family would not be adequately compensated for my injuries without pursuing legal action against my employer and the job that I love,” Jason said.

“I had my dream career and miss it more than I can tell you, as do my family.”

This month, Zaparas Lawyers in Victoria settled his claim for a substantial amount representing lost earnings until retirement age as well as damages for the pain and suffering he has and will continue to experience.

Now, Jason wants to use his experience to help educate fellow firefighters and emergency service personnel that even if you get injured on the job, and although it can be a difficult road, there is support out there to ease the compensation journey.

“I want to be very clear that you, the community, are incredibly well served by your fire services,” Jason said.

“My colleagues make sacrifices in their service and I don’t want that to be diminished in any way. I am proud of them and the role they play in serving our community.

“That said, on this occasion, many oversights from senior management have not been adequately acknowledged. This lack of accountability creates a dangerous void where the necessary changes that need to be made don’t get investigated.

“This fails all firefighters moving forward.”

Emergency service workers have just as many rights and entitlements to compensation as any worker injured or fallen ill because of their work.
Compensation options can include via WorkCover, presumptive firefighter rights for those with a cancer diagnosis, as well as compensation via superannuation benefits such as total and permanent disability insurance.

The purpose of such compensation schemes is to help injured workers with their recovery, assist in their return to work and support firefighters if they can’t return to their pre-injury roles, like Jason, who recently returned his firefighting gear for good.

Jason said if it wasn’t for Zaparas Lawyers fighting alongside him on his compensation journey, he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Despite still suffering the effects of the fire, and probably for the rest of his life, the compensation he received will also be life-changing for his recovery efforts and being able to continue supporting his family.

“When I pursued my claim, in my first two-hour meeting with Zaparas Lawyers, they answered all the questions and concerns I had and gave me a clear path forward that I could see,” he added.

“When Zaparas approached me about this article, I decided to do it to protect and set a path forward for any of my colleagues who were facing an uncertain future due to a workplace injury.

“Because as I write this, I am watching my family from afar and wishing I could do the things I used to do with them. I miss working on station and wish I wasn’t drafting this letter.”