Calgary Fire Chief Bruce Burrell says people risked their lives cleaning up the derailment in the Alyth Rail Yard last week when seven tankers carrying flammable liquids came off the tracks.

"When you've got six rail cars or seven rail cars in various forms or derailment, many of them laying on their side, there is always a risk there. We don't know what the damage is to the underside of the cars until they're uprighted."

'I thought the crews were doing actually an exemplary job of dealing with the emergency.' - Bruce Burrell, Calgary Fire Department chief 

More than 140 homes were evacuated after the Canadian Pacific Railway cars derailed Wednesday evening. 

Burrell said that when he arrived about 45 minutes after the incident things were under control. 

"It was very organized. The evacuation had taken place. The fire crew was in the process of setting up safe perimeters," said Burrell.

"The resources were being called in and arriving and I thought the crews were doing actually an exemplary job of dealing with the emergency."

Determining the danger level

Mayor Naheed Nenshi questioned why it took so long to find out exactly what was in the cars but 
Burrell said the signs on the cars have enough information to know whether the substance is dangerous.

"When rail cars go across crossings and that in Calgary, or anywhere in fact in North America, they have the diamond shaped placards on them with a four-digit number. Those four-digit numbers we can look up very, very rapidly."

"They have categorized millions of hazardous products in groupings based on their properties that gives us initial information."

Then Burrell said they contact CP Rail and then the shipper to get exact details on the material.

"It takes typically for anywhere from about 45 minutes to an hour."

Hazardous materials common

Burrell said it is common for hazardous materials to be transported in the city. 

"There is not a roadway where trucks travel in Canada or a railway anywhere in North America where these products are not being moved on a regular basis."

Burrell said despite concerns from city officials he thinks the relationship with CP Rail is good.

"We work well together at emergency scenes. We tend not to relate to each other a whole lot in between although they do participate in some of the training we do for our Hazmat crews so I would say we have a fairly good working relationship."