Willow Court fire issues discussed

A MEETING at the Derwent Valley Council tonight found few answers to the problem of security at the Willow Court historic site. The special workshop was convened in the wake of the destruction of one of the 1930s buildings at the site last weekend.

Mayor Martyn Evans said police and fire representatives had been invited to the meeting and he welcomed New Norfolk Fire Brigade chief Colin Triffitt and second officer Peter Brazendale. However, the mayor said Tasmania Police had decided not to be represented as the matter was “too political”. Councillor Damian Bester said this was a great disappointment as the purpose of the meeting was to consider ways to protect the historic site, not to discuss politics.

There were several members of the public present and this did not sit well with some councillors. Mr Triffitt gave a description of the weekend’s fire and in response to questions said alarms and a sprinkler system were the only real solution to the fire risk at the historic site. He noted that these were once in place but were no longer operational and a new installation would be expensive.

Mr Triffitt said fires at the Willow Court site were difficult, no matter when and where they occurred. The buildings were old and dilapidated and posed a risk to the safety of firefighters. Coincidentally, a training exercise had been conducted some weeks ago in F Ward, the building that was destroyed last weekend.

Deputy mayor Barry Lathey commended the fire brigade’s attitude to the safety of its members, but expressed concern about the organisation’s rescue role. A former fire chief, he said the brigade should not stand by and watch a building burn when there may be people inside. Mr Triffitt acknowledged Cr Lathey’s experience and said the fire brigade did not shirk from its rescue responsibilities, but the safety of its firefighters was paramount.

Willow Court Working Party member Simon Rolfe asked whether there was enough water on site and Mr Triffitt said although this had improved in recent times, the brigade had not been informed of the site of the new fire hydrants. Council general manager Stephen Mackey said this was the responsibility of Southern Water.

Mr Triffitt said the fire service was developing an emergency management plan for the historic site. Cr Bester commended the brigade on its efforts and for preventing the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings. This was echoed by Heritage Tasmania director Pete Smith who was also in attendance.

Cr Evans said the key to resolving the issue of security at Willow Court was to have the site open to legitimate users as soon as possible.

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