Emergency response delays due to CN crossing unacceptable, say residents of Edmonton neighbourhood

Residents of Edmonton's Maple Crest neighbourhood are worried the lack of access to the community during an emergency may put their lives at risk. 

‘It’s absolutely outrageous, we were just so frustrated and so afraid’

Maple Crest residents say fire crews were delayed in getting to this vehicle fire Tuesday as the main route into the neighbourhood was blocked by a train. (Cristina Jarvis)

Residents of Edmonton's Maple Crest neighbourhood are worried the lack of access to the community during an emergency may put their lives at risk. 

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services was responding to a vehicle fire on Tuesday evening in the southeast Edmonton community when the fire trucks had to stop for a train.

"We could hear the sirens after about five or six minutes and then the sirens turned off," Cristina Jarvis said Wednesday. "We stood there for a minute and thought, 'What is going on?' and we realized there's a train."

"There was nothing that [firefighters] could do so we just had to sit there and wait, and we were all just bracing for an explosion."

"It's absolutely outrageous; we were just so frustrated and so afraid," Jarvis said. "If that was somebody's house, if it was a medical emergency, seven minutes is a life and death sort of situation."

At 6:40 p.m., Tuesday, a neighbour who noticed smoke coming from a vehicle two houses down from Jarvis called 911. The neighbour began knocking on nearby doors to alert residents.

In the meantime, the vehicle burst into flames.

'The flames were huge'

"The flames were huge and you could hear crackling and the smell was awful," Jarvis said. "It was very scary."

Firefighters could be heard approaching on Maple Road, the main route into the neighbourhood, she said.

But Maple Road is crossed by a set of CN railway tracks.

"The emergency vehicle sat there for over seven minutes waiting for the train to pass," Jarvis said. "At this point there's really nothing that the emergency vehicles can do but wait." 

The neighbourhood does have a secondary access road, but it's an unpaved and unmaintained construction road, Jarvis said.

"This is the route they expect us to take in an emergency which adds on a minimum 15 minutes just to get onto another main road," she said.

Edmonton Fire Rescue acknowledged crews were delayed by the train, but only for "approximately three minutes, arriving at the residence at 6:53 p.m." 

In an email, spokesperson Brittany Lewchuk said fire rescue was aware of the secondary access, but she did not explain why it wasn't used.

On Thursday, Lewchuk issued a statement stating that because it was only a three minute delay, it did not require fire services to use the secondary access point.  

"This secondary access route is not normally used as it is much farther from the closest fire station and in the opposite direction of travel that would normally be taken," she said. 

Access into the neighbourhood has been an ongoing issue, Jarvis tells CBC news.

"We built our house in 2013 and the builders promised us that there would be multiple exits and entrances to this neighborhood," Jarvis said. "But a proper secondary route has just never happened."

Access is a concern, councillor says

Residents have complained to their city councillor, Mo Banga, and MLA Jasvir Deol without success.

"We didn't get any responses, nothing," Jarvis said.

Banga agreed people in the community have a valid concern and the lack of access is a legitimate safety issue.

"If I was living in that area I would be concerned too," he said.

He said he was assured that a secondary access was available and that CN and Edmonton Fire Rescue had shared contact information in the event a train needed to be moved quickly.

He agrees the current secondary access is not sufficient, but said improvements are the responsibility of the developer and are unlikely to happen until there is more development in the area.

"Until some developer comes along with more construction in that area, it will not be done."

With files from Emily Senger