Dangerous Goods Response In Western Canada

Saskatchewan is a "prairie province" in the West Central region of Canada covering 227,134 square miles with an estimated population of 1,023,810. Most of the population of Saskatchewan resides in the southern half of the province. The province's name comes from the Saskatchewan River, whose name is...


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Saskatchewan is a "prairie province" in the West Central region of Canada covering 227,134 square miles with an estimated population of 1,023,810. Most of the population of Saskatchewan resides in the southern half of the province. The province's name comes from the Saskatchewan River, whose name is derived from its Cree language designation: kisiskāciwani-sīpiy, meaning "swift flowing river." The Saskatchewan River flows through the center of the City of Saskatoon, the largest city in the province, with an estimated population of 233,923. Other major cities include Regina, the provincial capital, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw. A trip to Canada provided an opportunity to visit a Canadian hazardous materials team, so I contacted the Saskatoon Department of Fire and Protective Services and made arrangements to visit its hazardous materials, or dangerous goods, team.

Saskatoon is home to the Western Canadian Hazardous Materials Conference (www.canadahazmat.com), held annually at TCU Place, considered one of the best conference centers in Western Canada. The conference is presented through a public-private partnership by Envirotec Services Inc. and the Saskatchewan Office of the Fire Commissioner. The 2009 conference takes place Oct. 7 to 9.

Organized firefighting in Saskatoon began around 1882 and consisted of bucket brigades and large barrels of water taken from the river on wagons. Around the turn of the century, hand carts with mechanical hand pumps replaced the bucket brigades. In 1903, a steamer was purchased for Saskatoon's volunteers, along with a few hundred feet of hose and a brass nozzle. Fire Chief D.M. Leyden had 15 volunteers under his direction as the city population exploded. Along with the increase in population came an increase in fire calls. The first permanent fire station was constructed in December 1908 at the corner of 4th Avenue and 23rd Street. Thomas Health, a fire chief from eastern Canada, was hired as the department's first paid fire chief in 1909. Horses continued to pull fire apparatus into the late 1920s. It is unclear when Saskatoon made the transition from a volunteer fire department to a career organization, although on May 29, 1918, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) granted a charter to Local 80, the Saskatoon Firefighters Union. In 1946, a three-platoon system was implemented for firefighters.

Today's Saskatoon Department of Fire and Protective Services, under the command of Chief Brian Bentley, responds from eight fire stations (a ninth is planned) with 270 personnel, 11 engine companies, two truck companies, one tanker, two rural trucks, and dive rescue, trench rescue and hazardous materials teams. The city is divided into four districts with a district chief over each. Firefighters work two 10-hour days followed by two 14-hour nights and then have two days off. This schedule is repeated once and then firefighters have six days off. Firefighters average a 42½-hour work week.

Saskatoon Fire does not provide transportation for medical calls, but all firefighters are trained as medical first responders or emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Each department engine company is equipped with an automatic external defibrillator (AED). Ambulance service is provided by the Saskatoon Regional Health Agency, which transports patients to Saskatoon's three medical centers.

Before 9/11, Saskatoon had a limited dangerous goods response capability. The department's team was formed after a risk assessment of the city indicated large amounts of manufacturing and storage of dangerous goods in the area. The first dangerous goods response vehicle was a combination rescue/dangerous goods response unit. In the beginning, the team's 24 to 36 members were trained using the "Surviving the Hazardous Materials Incident" curriculum from Emergency Response. After 9/11, the Canadian government initiated a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP) with funding available for first responders. With that funding, Saskatoon purchased a dangerous goods trailer, a decontamination trailer and upgraded its protective clothing, monitors and decon ability. Since terrorist response is very similar to dangerous goods response, the addition of the CBRN equipment has greatly enhanced Saskatoon's dangerous goods response capability.

Saskatoon has three stations where dangerous goods response vehicles and equipment are located. Dangerous goods units are not dedicated, so personnel from other companies staff the dangerous goods apparatus and equipment when a call comes in. A total of 56 dangerous goods (hazardous materials) technicians are assigned to the department, with six to eight on duty per shift. All other firefighters in the city are trained to the operations level and dispatchers are trained to the awareness level.

Station 4, at 2106 Faithfull Ave., houses Engine 4, a 1998 E-One apparatus with a 5,000-liter-per-minute (1,250-gpm) pump. Engine 4 is first out on all dangerous goods incidents and carries monitoring equipment, foam eductors and an information library. Once on scene, Engine 4's crew determines whether additional assistance is required. If a call comes in as a chemical spill, all dangerous goods apparatus are dispatched initially. Two dangerous goods technicians are on duty at Station 4.

Station 7, at 3550 Wanuskewin Road, houses HM 40 and the dangerous goods trailer and pull vehicle. The 28-foot Wells Cargo trailer has a command post in the front and equipment storage in the back. The pull vehicle is Truck 40, a hazmat/rescue vehicle, which is a 1991 International that also responds to motor vehicle accidents on the city's north side. Four dangerous goods technicians are on duty at Station 7. In addition to the dangerous goods apparatus, Station 7 houses Engine 7, a 2001 Superior/E-One Cyclone II 5,000-liter-per-minute pumper.

Station 9, at 870 Attridge Drive, houses the decontamination trailer, which is a 24-foot Pace American car hauler converted by department personnel into two storage compartments and two showers. It has a heater and hot water supplied by a propane-powered forced-air furnace and a Bosch instantaneous hot water heater. All gray water from the showers is collected in a portable tank. The pull vehicle is a 1991 GMC Crew Cab 4x4 with a cap so that extra equipment can be carried in the back. Also housed at Station 9 is Engine 9, a 1991 Pierce Lance 1,250-gpm pumper.

Monitoring equipment carried by the dangerous goods team includes Industrial Scientific iTx four-gas monitors, RKI Eagle hydrocarbon monitors, pH/oxidizer paper, Spilfyter test strips, Dräger Hazmat Simultest sets I, II and III, Civil Defense Set I and V, Dräger Clan Lab tube set, Ludlum radiation monitor, Smith Detection infrared spectroscopy hazmat ID with the repeat IR and the extract IR kits to complement the hazmat ID. Level A chemical protective clothing consists of DuPont Tychem TK and Level B DuPont Tychem BR made by Lakeland Industries. Tychem suits are used because they are compatible with most of Saskatoon's chemical exposures and they have increased visibility with wide-vision panels. Saskatoon's team also carries assorted gloves and boots, coveralls and Kappler cooling vests. Respiratory protection is provided by MSA Advantage 1000 full-face air-purifying respirators (APR) and Survivair Panther 60-minute self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with HP Series masks. The department is applying for a grant to purchase six Dräger BG4 rebreather four-hour masks. Computer-based resources include PEAC software, Cameo, wireless internet, University Chemistry Department and CANUTEC, the Canadian equivalent to CHEMTREC in the United States.

All front-line apparatus carry carbon monoxide (CO) monitors along with Peat Sorb absorbent for chemical and fuel spills, Plug N Dike for plugging and patching fuel tanks, and a white-powder kit for suspicious powder incidents. Each front-line apparatus also carries a response bag with forms and information books that may be needed to mitigate a dangerous goods incident in the first five to 10 minutes. CO responses are handled by engine companies, as are fuel spills smaller than 200 liters (45 gallons).

Saskatoon uses five levels of dangerous goods response:

  • Level I response dispatches the district engine. These responses include needle pickups, fuel spills under 45 gallons and CO responses.
  • Level IB response dispatches Dangerous Goods Engine 4 and involves monitoring of the atmosphere for natural gas leaks, unknown chemical smells, pepper spray calls, fuel spills larger than 45 gallons, chlorine release at pools, mercury spills and motor vehicle accidents involving leaks of unknown liquids from trailers. The dangerous goods trailer is placed on standby.
  • Level II response dispatches the district engine, Engine 4 and the dangerous goods trailer. The decontamination trailer is placed on standby unless it is known there are victims from the dispatch information. Level II response examples include natural gas calls at commercial facilities, unknown chemical spills, ammonia and chlorine releases on highways or at commercial facilities, fires at auto body or similar businesses, and white-powder calls at target locations.
  • Level IIB responses involve the dispatch of all dangerous goods equipment and apparatus. These incidents include highway incidents involving dangerous goods, train derailments, multiple people having same signs and symptoms at public places or events, explosions in public buildings and anything related to CBRN events.
  • Level III incidents include train derailments with mass leakage, large chemical releases from chemical plants where evacuation is required, airplane crashes and chemical plumes crossing jurisdictional boundaries. The city's emergency management coordinator is notified of any incidents at Level II or above.

Mutual aid in Saskatoon is provided by chemical manufacturers' response teams and other private contractors. Chemists at the University of Saskatchewan are available to provide technical information about chemicals and how to handle neutralization and decontamination. The Saskatoon dangerous goods team also works closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the city police provincial clandestine drug lab team on incidents. Saskatoon is in the heart of Canada's agricultural belt and several chemical and fertilizer distribution facilities are in the area. Two major chemical facilities on the city's north side have sodium chlorate, liquid chlorine, sodium hypochlorite, acids, acrylonitrile, sodium hydroxide and other chemicals on site. Most commonly encountered chemicals at incidents in the past have included anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, natural gas and hydrocarbon fuel spills.

Two major railroads serve Saskatoon — Canadian Pacific on the northeast side and Canadian National on the southwest side. Major dangerous goods transportation routes bring truck traffic to the north end of the city. Eight major transportation routes feed through the city.

For more information, contact Fire Service Instructors Wilbur Hueser at wilbur.hueser@saskatoon.ca or Eron McCormick at eron.mccormick@saskatoon.ca.

ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland Baltimore. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be contacted at robert.burke@att.net.

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