Heavy-duty protective clothing for correctional staff that they can quickly access and change into should be considered after a prison fire burnt so hot “boots were melting to the tiles”, according to a report from the Inspector of Correctional Services.
The fire at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) in November last year resulted in the loss of 28 beds for several weeks after a lower security accommodation unit was deemed uninhabitable.
It occurred just days after four fires lit by detainees caused $5.7 million in damages.
Inspector Neil McAllister said the fire raised major security issues about how detainees were able to breach a locked door and problems with the training of staff to deal with fires.
The fire was likely lit near the skylight of a stairwell foyer in the cottage unit. It was allegedly started by detainees who breached the locked door in a manner that remains unclear, the report said.
Black smoke from the foyer forced three responding correctional officers to retreat in fear for their safety.
One officer said, “this fire was so hot that our boots were melting to the tiles and the steel handrails radiated a frightening amount of heat along their full length”.
No discipline charges were laid against detainees for lighting the fire due to a lack of evidence.
Citing an officer’s report, the review noted that detainees thought the event was “a big joke”.
“Another officer reported that detainees from Delta Pod had been sitting or standing in the exercise area the whole time and were asking [a correctional officer] for her phone number and laughing at everything done by us or the firemen,” the report said.
No detainee reported any harm or injuries.
Eight recommendations were made – four of which were redacted – including fire refresher training for staff, the investigation of how to evacuate detainees from upper levels of the accommodation unit safely, and heavy-duty clothing that can be put over uniforms to protect against heat, fire and chemicals.
The report also found there was no official debrief of officers, contrary to policy requirements, and while a report was made to ACT Policing, no police attended the AMC to the best of the Inspector’s knowledge.