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ABC News
ABC News

NT Fire and Rescue Service raises concerns about capacity to cover Middle Arm industrial precinct on Darwin Harbour

Emergency incidents at a major industrial hub proposed for Darwin Harbour could "place the community at risk" because of insufficient firefighting resources in the region, the NT Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS) has warned.

The federal government has committed $1.5 billion towards the manufacturing and energy hub planned for Middle Arm, which will cater for a range of industries, including renewable hydrogen, minerals processing and petrochemicals.

But in a submission to the NT Environment Protection Authority (EPA), NTFRS flagged several concerns about potential emergencies involving either hazardous materials (HAZMAT) or chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) incidents.

"The NTFRS has extremely limited capacity and capability to respond to any HAZMAT or CBRN incidents occurring along road corridors and within the precinct," it stated.

"Additionally, NTFRS does not possess marine firefighting or shipboard response capability, in the event a HAZMAT or CBRN incident occurs in NT waters."

The fire service has four stations across Darwin and Palmerston, but all are outside the "optimal response time" of eight minutes in relation to Middle Arm, it said.

"NTFRS responses to incidents within the precinct would require diverting resources from Palmerston, Darwin or Berrimah Emergency Response Areas to respond," the submission stated.

That would "place the community at risk in the event multiple emergency incidents occur."

The submission was filed earlier this year when the proposed hub was referred to the EPA for assessment, but has not previously been reported.

The fire service suggested the Middle Arm precinct include dedicated firefighting resources and emergency response infrastructure "to mitigate the risk of large-scale fire, HAZMAT and/or road incidents".

It also said that given service's "current resource and budgetary constraints", consideration should be given to a levy, or a user pays system, where companies operating at Middle Arm provide their own emergency response teams.

Department says planning still underway, hub and public will be safe

A government spokesperson said emergency services and hazardous risk assessments had been commissioned since the submission was made.

"The studies will help inform the required emergency response capability for different industrial scenarios to ensure the future Middle Arm precinct and wider community remains safe," they said.

"This is part of the strategic planning of the Middle Arm precinct and will be developed with specific industrial facilities in mind.

"Individual proponents will also need to have an emergency response plan that meets or exceeds the Middle Arm precinct's emergency response requirements."

The spokesperson said the department will continue to involve NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services throughout the planning and design phase.

Last month, the NT government was accused of "greenwashing" after deleting the term "petrochemicals" from its official websites about Middle Arm.

Construction of federally-funded infrastructure, including a jetty and offloading facility, is expected to begin in 2026, if approvals are granted.

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