Firefighters ready to handle dangerous goods

Tyler Clarke
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Dangerous goods constantly pass through and within Prince Albert, and the city’s fire department is ready to taken on the unthinkable.


City Hall

“We’re not flying blind in the city,” deputy chief Jason Everitt said. “Our staff is very well trained in managing dangerous goods.”

As reported in Tuesday’s Daily Herald, Mayor Greg Dionne is considering a ban on dangerous goods passing through the city -- in part out of concern that emergency crews might not know what they’re facing.

Although they aren’t provided a daily list of what dangerous goods are passing through the city, Everitt said that they have an idea.

The department has responded to 28 hazmat calls so far this year, which Everitt said is about on par with previous years.

“Most of those are small-scale spills where there’s a car accident where we’ve got diesel or gasoline leaking,” he said.

“When you think about it, if you pick up a bag of fertilizer at Home Depot and take it home, you’re transporting dangerous goods,” Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation director of communications Doug Wakabayashi said. “There’s a lot moving.”

One of crews’ first tasks is to evaluate potential dangers, be it a common motor vehicle incident or a crash involving a semi-truck carrying dangerous goods in bulk.

“There’s a lot of detective work that we do in order to assess what’s happening, and all that happens in relatively short period of time,” Everitt said.

Dispatch and whoever’s first to arrive on scene are charged with passing on whatever information they’re able to gather when it comes to the potential presence of dangerous goods.

Truck placards prove particularly useful, with different colours, symbols and numbers connoting different dangerous goods for emergency crews to prepare for.

During Monday’s executive committee meeting, a handful of elected officials expressed concern about the transportation of products related to the nuclear energy sector.

Saskatchewan does not currently store nuclear waste, however Everitt noted that yellow cake uranium passes through the city on a regular basis.

“We’ve had representatives from Cameco come to the (fire) hall in years past to talk about yellow cake … and the risks to responders in the community,” he said.

“They’re very, very specific on what needs to happen from a local level when (an incident) happens, and for the most part it’s relatively low risk.”

As a former Cameco employee, Everitt also brings his own experiences to the table.

Yellow cake uranium is shipped from the mining site in steel drums that are located in the back of semi-trucks, Everitt explained.

The steel drums “are well secured and sealed, and the load itself is well-packed and padded around there so the load doesn’t shift.”

When you think about it, if you pick up a bag of fertilizer at Home Depot and take it home, you’re transporting dangerous goods Doug Wakabayashi

“In the event that one of the drums is breached, it’s like a black sand that comes out, so it’s not like a fallout that’s going to drift across the city.”

Yellow cake uranium is “a heavy metal … a very much granular substance,” Everitt explained. “It’s still in a raw form, and then it goes into processing plants to be upgraded into fuel rods and things like.”

Regardless of the dangerous good involved in the incident that emergency personnel respond to, Everitt said that the fire department will be prepared.

“Training is critical to everything we do, and that’s why there’s such a focus on training to make sure we’re up to speed on the latest changes co our crews are ready to safely respond -- not just for the crew’s safety but the safety of the community,” he said.

The shipping of dangerous goods in Saskatchewan follow the same regulations as any other province in Canada, which all follow Transportation Canada guidelines, Wakabayashi said.

“It’s an issue that, given events over the past summer is certainly top of mind, and obviously something that is an issue that the province takes seriously, and certainly I expect municipal governments to be concerned as well,” he said.

“The federal government has developed some fairly stringent regulations for the transportation of dangerous goods.”

When it comes to dangerous goods passing through the centre of Prince Albert down Second Avenue West and across the Diefenbaker bridge, Wakabayashi said that the province’s other cities face similar situations.

“You’re always going to see dangerous goods travelling within a city, because there is certainly a fair amount of truck traffic that goes through a city en route to its final destination, but there are going to be deliveries destined for Prince Albert, or Regina, or wherever.”

Reviewing Prince Albert city council’s Monday’s executive committee meeting remarks during, Saskatchewan NDP critic for municipal relations Trent Wotherspoon said that he’s heard similar concerns expressed from other municipalities.

“It is certainly reasonable and common sense that that information be provided to municipalities -- that municipalities are aware of which dangerous goods are being transported through their communities,” he said.

“Certainly, the province should be working constructively and co-operatively to make sure that information is available to municipalities throughout the province.”

Organizations: Daily Herald, Home Depot, Cameco Prince Albert Transportation Canada

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, Second Avenue West

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