Frontline lays foundations for ‘fuel-proof’ fire system to protect Tasmania’s fuel supply

They’ve hung on harnesses from some of the country’s highest wind turbines, and tunnelled deep into the Earth delivering power supplies to mining projects.

But for the fearless electricians who deliver Frontline Electrical’s services to the heights and depths of Tasmania, it’s a whole new ballgame fire-proofing the island’s main fuel transit wharf.

TasPorts’ Selfs Point Wharf is the single most important fuel transit facility for a state that relies on liquid fuels to drive its transport industry – with loads of up to 3.5 million litres of petrol, diesel and LPG arriving by ship. So when Frontline was asked to supply the electrical know-how for an $8 million upgrade of Selfs Point’s fire-fighting system, it turned out to be a little more complex than their usual project works.

“The biggest challenge is that we have to keep the existing system fully operational, so the new system has to be overlaid on the present system,” explained TasPorts’ Project Manager, Richard Seeber, who’s overseeing the upgrade. “It’s a very challenging location, with strong currents and high winds… and the ultimate challenge, of course, of large tankers docking and unloading millions of litres of fuel.”

The rough conditions on the Derwent River meant it would be exceedingly dangerous to try and mount heavy water pipes and electrical cables from a barge or boat – so the project partners have devised an ingenious ‘mobile scaffold’ that will slide beneath the 300-metre-long wharf. The scaffold will enable Frontline’s electricians to install 8,000 metres of heavy-duty cable connecting the shore-based control room, pumps and water tanks to three fire towers equipped with remote-controlled water cannons on the wharf.

“It’s certainly a pretty unique job for us,” admits Frontline Project Manager Jason Bryan. “There are very stringent operating standards, of course, and our guys are going to be hanging over the water with life-jackets on, in the rain or snow, and very windy conditions. We’re used to some pretty challenging environments, but this is new territory even for us!”

Keeping it in Tasmania

Working closely with TasPorts, Shaw Contracting and steel fabricator Haywards in an all-Tasmanian partnership, Frontline’s electricians have spent the past 12 months designing the project’s electrical infrastructure and developing the underground conduits and cable pits for the shore-based facilities.

But now this work is coming to an end, foreman Leigh Richards says he’s looking forward to getting out on the water. “I’ve done a fair bit of work in oil and gas projects, but mounting our cable supports on this wharf is definitely going to be one of the tougher projects I’ve been involved in,” he says. “The mobile scaffold will be very secure to work from, but it won’t necessarily give us much protection from the snow and the wind!”

While the natural conditions may be daunting, the project also involves a rigorous series of approvals to install equipment in a hazardous area that is also a restricted maritime zone. “If you think about this environment, there are all sorts of certifications required for installing and testing electrical equipment in hazardous and fire-prone environments, as well as security clearances from the AFP and Border Force,” says Jason Bryan.

An Australian first

As well as a 3 million-litre water tank, the Selfs Point fire system will be equipped with 32,000 litres of fluorine-free foam – making it the largest foam system of its kind in Australia, and the only one ever developed as a new build.

“This is a very important project for everyone involved,” says Richard Seeber. “If there’s any incidence of fire, it’s critical to get foam onto any spilled fuel straight away. This system is designed for fighting fires and, with 32 kilolitres of foam, we have nearly an hour’s worth of spraying capacity.

“This will be a totally unique, state-of-the-art fire system for our maritime industry, and Frontline look ready and prepared to complete this job safely, reliably, and in good time.”

For more on the Selfs Point fire system upgrade: