Where a Vancouver HAZMAT team had to come over: June 2000, when a 38k litre propane truck rolled over.
Spill-busters hail from Surre. CRD contracts out hazardous materials work to helicopter-borne mainland fire department
Norman Gidney Times Colonist Thursday, May 12, 2005
Chemical spill on the Pat Bay Highway? Mysterious white powder in the mailroom? Radioactive material fell out of a truck? Who are you going to call?
Soon, anywhere from Sooke to Sidney, it will be the fire department of Surrey, located 100 kilometres and a wide ocean strait away.
The unusual arrangement to provide long-distance HAZMAT (hazardous materials) service makes more sense than it might seem.
"It's highly specialized and highly expensive," Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis explained in an interview Wednesday.
The Capital Regional District has approved negotiating a contract with Surrey to have a rapid-response team available for HAZMAT emergencies here.
"It was less money," said Mayor Frank Leonard of Saanich. Surrey's HAZMAT-trained firefighters also get more calls, so they develop a greater skill level. They'll also train CRD-area firefighters, he said.
Saanich Fire Chief Dave Ward, who has led the initiative for the last three years for the Greater Victoria Fire Chiefs Association, said most HAZMAT calls are handled locally, but in more severe incidents, Surrey would be called in.
With training and experience in working together, the local departments will develop more expertise in making those decisions. It can be expensive -- bringing over a team of nine, level-two-trained HAZMAT firefighters from Surrey for 24 hours will cost the CRD $35,000, he said.
Surrey's fire department is at a level where CRD-area departments might be in a decade, in the number and severity of HAZMAT incidents, said Ward.
Garis stressed that his department's HAZMAT crew would provide their special skills under the direction of leadership by the local department here whenever they're called in.
Until now, fire departments have leaned on the Department of National Defence for serious incidents, as in the recent chemical spill at Gorge Road Hospital.
On Wednesday, the CRD board approved spending $20,000 to draft an agreement involving the region, local chiefs and Surrey. It's expected to be ready by July.
A lot more money will be required for operating costs and equipment once the contract is in place next year. In the first year, the CRD expects to spend $240,000 on operating costs and $310,000 to buy equipment -- including breathing apparatus good for an hour, radio sets and a $90,000 trailer to carry their gear.
The CRD's goal is to have three equipped trailers located in the urban core, the Saanich Peninsula and the Western Communities.
Garis said Surrey's department, which serves a population of about 400,000 and a geographic area about the size of the CRD, has about $1 million worth of equipment and a $150,000 annual training budget.
It has eight HAZMAT-trained firefighters ready on each shift, with 65 firefighters staffing the municipality's 17 firehalls. "You need a fairly deep department to do it," he said. Surrey has 328 career firefighters and 240 volunteers.
Most HAZMAT calls don't actually involve a fire. Surrey's teams have responded to everything from dismantling clandestine drug labs with lots of volatile chemicals, to propane truck accidents, refrigeration plant ammonia leaks and fertilizer spills, Garis said.
Surrey's fire department would maintain a group of trained and certified specialist firefighters. There are 60 Surrey firefighters who have this training, and a team of four to nine members would fly over when needed.
The municipality would also hold training exercises with the local departments every year.
On this side, the local fire departments would transport the Surrey HAZMAT team to the incident site and the equipment, provide backup support and handle maintenance, testing and replacing equipment.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005
Conversely, for most open water diver emergencies, Vancouver and most of BC for that matter have to call to the Fleet Diving Unit, here at CFB Esquimalt... so I guess there is a trade off. Although the dive team can and will deploy by air if required.
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05-12-2005, 05:49 PM #1
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05-12-2005, 07:44 PM #2
yeah, it was nice of the HAZMAT guys to catch the ferry the next day... almost 12 hours after the tanker rolled...
But it certainly made for an interesting night as about the only thing missing was a fireworks display, and we came pretty close to having front row seats for one!"No one ever called the Fire Department for doing something smart..."
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