THE review into a serious fire at the Alexander Maconochie Centre on November 14 discovered a major security issue after it found that detainees breached a locked door during the incident.
Conducted by the Office of the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services, the review, presented in the ACT Legislative Assembly today (April 20), revealed that the fire in Sentenced Cottage 2, a two-storey low security unit, accommodating both sentenced and remand detainees, was very serious and caused significant damage to the cottage, with an estimated repair cost of about $40,000.
The ACT Inspector of Correctional Services, Neil McAllister said: “It has also raised a major security issue of detainees being able to breach a locked door [after night lock in], which has since been addressed by ACT Corrective Services.”
Electronic records indicated that one of the pod doors had been breached 10 minutes prior to the fire being detected. Based on the scene of the fire, it appeared that the fire started near the skylight, and spread down to the stairwell from there.
Whilst the review team were presented with a number of theories as to the chain of events, there is no CCTV coverage of the cottages and the precise circumstances cannot be determined, and the motive for lighting the fire is unclear.
The review concluded that the fire was dealt with professionally by the night shift staff but it found that the training of staff was lacking and there was a significant ACT Fire and Rescue access problem on the night.
It has been recommended that the ACT Corrective Services ensure that Fire Refresher Training (including Breathing Apparatus) for all relevant staff is brought up to date as a matter of urgency and review processes are implemented to ensure that mandatory training is provided when it is required to maintain currency.
It has also been recommended that the ACT Corrective Services explore options for providing staff with appropriate “heavy-duty” clothing that they can access quickly and change into, or put over their normal uniform, to provide better protection against heat, fire and chemicals.
Due to a lack of further evidence, no discipline charges were laid against detainees for lighting the fire.
The Sentenced Cottage 2 fire broke out days after a riot and fires occurred inside the correctional facility last year.
On November 10 and 11, what started as a passive protest of detainees refusing to lock into their cells overnight, got out of hand when a few detainees started lighting fires and damaging furniture and fittings in the Accommodation Unit – North.