hi-cn-rail-cp-00562543

The White Rock fire chief says that his department's resources would be stretched to the max in the event of a train derailment near the city. (The Canadian Press)

Some fire departments in B.C. railway towns are reconsidering their emergency preparedness following recent derailments in other provinces, and officials seem split on whether or not their teams are ready for a potential accident.

On Saturday, 13 cars of a CN train carrying petroleum products from Alberta's oil sands derailed and exploded about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton, forcing 100 people from the town of Gainford to evacuate their homes.

The Alberta derailment follows the catastrophic explosion that ripped through Lac Mégantic, Que. on July 6, destroying the rural town and killing 47 people, and comes amidst growing debate over the merits of transporting oil by rail to B.C.'s coast.

White Rock reviews plans

White Rock Fire Chief Phil Lemire says that in response to these recent events, his department is reviewing its emergency response plans.

Lemire admits that there is potential in White Rock, a city through which two and a half kilometres of railway runs, for a "high impact incident," and he's not sure if his department could manage the fallout.

"Well you plan for what your typical daily events are. We have limited capacity so far as resources," he told CBC News.

"We do have mutual aid with other departments in the Lower Mainland, and in an event of a large scale, you'd be looking to call on those resources as well."

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway Company, the operator responsible for that stretch of track in White Rock, decides what information about cargo is shared with the fire department.

According to Lemire, BNSF often does not disclose what their trains are carrying or when they will be carrying it, citing national and operational security as the reason for non-disclosure.

Prince George prepared

In Prince George, however, where CN Rail tracks run adjacent to downtown, Fire Chief John Iverson insists his crews are prepared to respond to a spill or emergency involving hazardous materials due to extensive training.

"We have numerous staff that are trained, very highly trained, in dealing with hazardous materials. We have rail car training; we have training in dealing with compressed gases; we've got training in just about everything we're going to come across," Iverson says.

In July, Transport Canada issued an emergency directive to rail companies, ordering them to always have two engineers working in a single train carrying hazardous materials.  A full federal review of rail safety regulations is expected in the coming months.

With files from the CBC's Rafferty Baker and Marissa Harvey