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Emergency exercise at Challicum Hills

ARARAT – Dozens of emergency services flocked to the Pacific Hydro Wind Farm at Challicum Hills, Buangor to perform a rescue.

There was no cause for concern, however, as the operation was a mock exercise set up to test the effectiveness of plans and response to an incident at height within a wind turbine generator.

About 35 members from the Ararat Police, Ararat and Ballarat Country Fire Authority and Ambulance Victoria, Ararat Rural City Council and observers from other local government agencies were involved in the operation.

Regional Emergency Management Inspector for the Grampians region Matt Wood said the mock rescue ran very smoothly.

“What we did was we role played a 75 kilogram dummy as one of the workers from the wind farm and he was at the nacelle of the wind tower and fell over hit his head and was unconscious,” he said.

Police and Ambulance officers were the first to respond to the situation, with paramedics ascending the wind tower, 68 metres high, to assess the ‘patient’.

“After assessing him they concluded that it had to be a high angle rescue extraction and that is when the CFA High Angle Rescue team from Ballarat attended and put the dummy into a litter and abseiled him down the inside of the tower,” Mr Wood said.

“The best and most effective method for that wind tower is lowering him down what is called a crane shoot on the inside.”

There were four objectives of the rescue operation:

To test the Pacific Hydro Australia employees’ knowledge of and adherence to the Pacific Hydro Emergency Response Plan.

To test the participants in a practical emergency response scenario.

To evaluate the effectiveness of cooperation between responding agencies.

To assess any identified gaps or deficits in training or equipment required.

“The idea is that it is an identified risk within our Municipal Emergency Management Plan, so you exercise the risks to work out whether those planned outcomes can be achieved,” Mr Wood said.

“There were some very minor things to pop up out of it which were mostly administrative and organisational areas, but all the emergency services worked really well together and co-operated.”

The entire operation took about two and a half hours to complete, which Mr Wood said was a bit longer than expected.

“It ran a bit longer than anticipated, but it was the first one that we have had and the agencies had to work out what equipment to take up to treat the patient and to retrieve him, so I thought it worked very well in the time frame,” he said.

“Now they’ve got some experience in the makeup of the towers and how to ascend and descend I think they could shave some more time off.”

The Challicum Hill Wind Farm was one of the first of its kind built in Victoria and as such to move up and down the towers requires navigating several ladders.

Mr Wood said turbines at the more recently built Waubra wind farm, north-west of Ballarat, have lifts built into the structure, which would make rescue operations much simpler.

With wind farms becoming more frequent in the district, Mr Wood said operations similar to this will become part of regular training.

“The community can be reassured that we are identifying the risks to the community and we are exercising them so that we’ve got an adequate response plan,” he said.

“All involved said it was very worth while and they now understand the complexities of getting an injured person out of the top of the wind farm and really appreciate how the agencies worked co-operatively together to assist.”