An emergency scene unfolded on Lake Windermere last Wednesday, August 30th.
Crews circled in boats as buoyant yellow booms gathered material floating on the water’s surface. A large pop-up containment tank sat on the shoreline waiting to suck in the foreign materials. Dozens of emergency personnel dotted the shoreline and bobbed in boats.
The scene was part of a Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP) aquatic clean-up exercise. The mock disaster was CP’s first ever aquatic response training session (humourously dubbed ‘boom school’) in Canada.
“The scenario was a derailed train that spilled product into the lake,” described Mike LoVecchio, director of government affairs west for CP.
CP chose the Columbia Valley as their first Canadian training ground thanks to an already positive working relationship with area fire departments due to hazardous materials training they have conducted, as well as the Valley’s proximity to such precious resources as the Columbia Wetlands.
Almost 40 bright orange vests dotted the shoreline at Taynton Bay to run through a scenario that everyone hopes they never have to replay for real.
It was a two-day project designed to teach and test the skills and knowledge of CP employees and local first responders. Participants in the exercise included representatives from CP Rail, Invermere, Radium, Windermere and Fairmont Fire / Rescue service members, RCMP, Conservation, and Ministry of Environment and Climate Change personnel. They spent Tuesday, August 29th doing table top training in ‘Railroad 101’ class then running through some static displays at the CP staging areas. The following day, they brought their lessons to life by getting a callout, proceeding to the scene and running through step by step the process of containment and cleanup.
“This gets everybody to understand their roles, builds confidences and identifies gaps,” explained Dustin Ritter, Calgary-based CP hazardous materials officer. “We simulate exactly how an incident would unfold.”
CP is required by law to transport all manner of goods, including dangerous goods, related Mr. LoVecchio. While CP ensures safety as a top priority, derailments do take place. CP officials on scene last week emphasized that, should a derailment and consequent spill occur, they would take the matter seriously and arrive as rapidly as possible. In the meantime, local first responders trained and ready to take action can respond almost immediately and start working defensively on the scene.
Jim Miller, Columbia Valley Fire Chief, said it was a valuable exercise.
“We have a better understanding of what they have available for response units, personnel, a better idea of what’s coming and what the resources are, and what they expect of us as well, which is huge,” Mr. Miller stated. “We will be the first responders … it was good information for us and them, and just another step of trying to be safer.”
Several local politicians were on hand to watch the action unfold, including Radium councillor Mike Gray. He said it was admirable to watch the training unfold.
“It’s impressive to see the preparedness and deployment. Obviously the ideal is no incident, but if there’s going to be, I’m glad they’re prepared,” said Mr. Gray.
MLA Doug Clovechok was grateful for CP’s dedication to ensuring safety.
“It’s amazing to see the amount of energy and effort CP is putting into making sure their operations are safe, and the communities they run through are even safer,” commented Mr. Clovechok.
Following the mock disaster, Mr. Ritter reflected on the exercise. He said thanks to the two days of working together, the multi-agency team would now work far better together if an actual spill were to occur.
Kandis Lipsett, environmental emergency response officer with the Ministry of Environment and Climate change strategy (MOE), watched the incident unfold from the command centre while relaying information back and forth to Victoria. Much like wildfire response, Ms. Lipsett explained that MOE staff come on hand during aquatic incidents to ensure cleanup is done properly. She said the MOE works with partners to ensure the shoreline cleanup plan is conducted, as well as wildlife protection, waste management, doing sampling and ensuring the response doesn’t further impact the environment. After participating in last week’s exercise, Ms. Lipsett commented of CP staff and local first responders, “I have no doubt they are prepared.”