TELSTRA will today close the final chapter on a tale it would much rather forget.
Nearly a year after the south-west was thrown back into the dark ages by the Telstra exchange fire, refurbishing work has at last finished at the Koroit Street site.
While today’s official event promises to deliver speeches, ribbon-cutting and tours of the building, thousands of residents and businesses will want assurances from the telco that every measure has been put in place to avoid a repeat of the inferno.
“We’ve spent approximately $18 million,” regional manager Bill Mundy told The Standard.
Lessons have been learnt from the outage, which was sparked by an electrical malfunction inside the 1950s era building.
“We’ve been very clear about this,” Mr Mundy said. “We can never guarantee that there won’t be another fire.
“What we’re saying is that we’ve taken every possible precaution.”
At least 22 recommendations from a post-fire report have been carried out.
Most importantly, exchange services will remain decentralised, with all landline calls outside Warrnambool, running through Telstra’s South Melbourne exchange.
Mr Mundy said fire suppression still wasn’t an option at the exchange for obvious reasons.
“Because of the nature of the equipment in the exchange you can’t have a fire suppression system,” he said.
Gases that could cut the oxygen supply to the fire had been explored, but were deemed a serious safety risk to any workers inside the building.
When the fire did strike, smoke alarms took longer to detect smoke because of the flow of airconditioning.
“The airconditioning has been re-programmed to avoid a repeat of the recirculation of the smoke should a fire occur in the building again,” Mr Mundy said.
Another key change has been to switches that will instantly kill power to the building. Firefighters were slowed down last year by a confusing backup system that kicked in despite attempts to shut it down.
Mr Mundy defended the time taken to rebuild the exchange, completed short of the November 22 anniversary. Work had halted over the summer tourist season until February to avoid further disruption to businesses, Mr Mundy said.
More than $7 million has been paid out in compensation to about 4000 south-west businesses.
Economists estimate the total cost of the fire to be in the order of $17.9 million for the entire south-west coast region.
Premier and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine will officially re-open the building this morning at 11am alongside Telstra bosses and Wannon MP Dan Tehan.
Public tours of the rebuilt exchange will run on Saturday between 10am and 4pm.