Fire department gearing up for Green Line LRT tunnel construction

The Green Line LRT downtown tunnel isn't even be under construction yet but the Calgary fire department is already preparing for future emergencies.

New money will help department prepare for underground emergencies

The photo on left shows an artist's conception of an underground LRT station with people on the platform and a train in the background. The photo on the right shows an artist's depiction of a train at a grade-level platform.
An artist's conceptions of an underground station at 10th Avenue downtown, left, and an at-grade LRT line on 12th Avenue, right. (City of Calgary)

Construction hasn't begun on the Green Line LRT tunnel under downtown but the Calgary Fire Department is already preparing for future emergencies.

In last November's budget debate, city council approved $4.2 million for the fire department to acquire vehicles and equipment that its crews would need to tackle any incidents during Green Line construction.

Calgary has several existing LRT tunnels. But fire chief Steve Dongworth said none of them are as long or as deep underground as the downtown tunnel that's planned for the Green Line.

The two-kilometre long tunnel will run from Victoria Park to Eau Claire under the city's downtown and feature four stations below the surface.

Dongworth said fire crews must be ready not only for the construction phase but also any incidents once the LRT line is operational.

Steve Dongworth, chief of the Calgary Fire Department, is seen in uniform talking in front of a red fire truck.
Calgary fire Chief Steve Dongworth says the department has to be prepared before construction begins. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)

"We need to be prepared to be able to provide the appropriate level of service should we be called upon, because you can bet your bottom dollar, particularly in the operational phase, it's going to be our responsibility to respond in there, whether it's a fire or a medical call or … an entrapment or something like that," said Dongworth.

"It's a challenging environment."

Special equipment needed

The fire department wants to acquire specialized equipment, including a road-rail vehicle. That's a type of truck which has both rubber wheels and rail wheels so it can be used to carry firefighting equipment into a tunnel.

As well, crews will need to prepare in the event of any communications challenges underground.

Dongworth said the department will invest in training so crews are ready to go underground in the event of any incidents.

More than half of the money being allocated by council will be spent in 2023, with smaller figures to be spent during the subsequent three years of the current budget.

The Green Line's construction director, Rizwan Hussain, said there have been ongoing discussions with the fire department about dealing with potential emergencies underground.

He said contractors will have the primary responsibility for preventing any problems during construction, although the fire department would need to be ready in case assistance is needed.

"Safety is our highest priority on Green Line. We want to make sure that we are prepared, and we are planning for contingencies in case any assistance is required," said Hussain.

The city is expected to select a winning bidder this spring to build the $5.5-billion Green Line.

Construction is slated to begin sometime in 2024, although a definitive date for the tunnel work hasn't been set.


Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has been at CBC News for more than two decades across four provinces. His roles have included legislative reporter, news reader, assignment editor and national reporter. When not at Calgary's City Hall, it's still all politics, all the time.