Saint John fire chief calls for training centre to deal with fuel disasters
Kevin Clifford pushes for regional training centre in city after serving on national task force
Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford says there's still no plan to provide his fire crews with training to deal with flammable fuel disasters on the scale of the 2013 Lac-Megantic tragedy or the 2014 derailment and fire in Plaster Rock.
"That's a huge gap we've identified and we're not walking away from that," said Clifford, after completing his service on Transport Canada's emergency response task force, which concluded its mandate last month.
Clifford says he'd like to see a training centre built in Saint John and supported by federal funding. He says Ottawa's federal budget commitment to spend $143 million over three years to enhance rail safety may be the place to find the money.
"We're hoping in that package there's some funds to support first responder training for rail emergencies," he said.
Clifford says his fire teams can now receive technical support from RST Industries when it comes to analyzing flammable liquid situations and that is a change for the better.
"They'll bring technical expertise around the rail line, transferring product, grounding those cars if you are transferring product. So they know that business very well," said Clifford.
But he says the missing skill set is how to put those fires out and that job falls to his fire fighters.
"Those skills are not part of our training," he said.
Clifford says training is provided in Maple Ridge, B.C. but there's nothing in the eastern region and he thinks Saint John would be a logical choice.
Saint John is home to Canada's largest oil refinery, which imports oil by rail. There's also an LNG regasification plant, natural gas pipelines, and Saint John may become the end point for the Energy East oil pipeline, if it gets built.
Clifford said it was sobering to work on the task force with Denis Lauzon, chief of Lac-Megantic Fire Services.
Lauzon saw half of his township destroyed by a fire, after an unattended train carrying Bakken crude rolled downhill and exploded, killing 47 people.
Clifford said he felt fortunate to participate in discussions that did lead to some improvements but he considers the job unfinished.
The last meeting of the emergency response task force was March 17.
Clifford said he's already contacted Saint John MP Wayne Long to see if any of that federal money can be directed toward Saint John.