Convicted criminals in Western Australia will be hand-coating utility poles with fire-retardant paint, in a pilot project designed to reduce bushfires on the state’s electrical network.
WA State Energy Minister Peter Collier announced April 8 that community-based offenders, under the new “Repay WA” scheme, would coat fire-retardant paint on power poles in high-fire-risk areas for three weeks.
The state government wants to see whether hand-painting poles could become a viable long-term fire-prevention option.
‘Learn a New Skill’
“Fire-retardant paint protects poles against low-intensity fires and prevents a wood pole from smoldering for hours,” Collier said in a statement.
|Energy Minister Peter Collier said the program would offer offenders “the opportunity to learn a new skill.”|
Western Power, the Australian utility company, “already machine-coats new poles with fire-retardant paint before they are placed in the field, but it plans to explore the option of retrospectively painting poles already in the field and in high-fire-risk areas,” Collier said.
Hand-painting poles after installation “is usually a prohibitively costly option,” Collier noted, “which is why Western Power is looking at the opportunity of using community-based offenders.”
Collier said the utility would “provide basic training and, for some, the opportunity to learn a new skill, while the corporation will have access to no-cost labor.”
In the first phase of the project, a Repay WA supervisor will oversee two offenders, who will be working in a “selected high-fire-risk area” for three weeks, the government said.
A quality assessment and feasibility study will follow.
Pride, Achievement and Free Labor
Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman said the project served as “an excellent example of how communities could benefit from the work of Repay WA crews carrying out a range of tasks.”
|Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman said adult offenders contributed $2.46 million in labor to community projects last year.|
Redman said adult offenders put in about 144,000 hours of community work in the last fiscal year—the equivalent of about $2.46 million US in labor.
“Not only are 400 community projects across the state currently getting valuable labor from Repay WA, but offenders have the opportunity to develop work skills and, I hope, get a sense of pride and achievement from their efforts,” he said.
Coating Protection Cited
Western Power managing director Doug Aberle said in a statement that the fire-retardant paint on poles had proved effective in a recent series of bushfires. The painted poles were still standing after the fires swept through, Aberle said.
He said the paint improved the network’s chances of remaining operational in a fire, because uncoated wooden poles would continue to smolder long after the fire had passed.