Nova Scotia

Ammunition depot in Halifax steps up fire prevention measures

Following a 2015 report that cited multiple fire safety issues at the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot in Bedford, N.S., the military has taken steps to reduce the risk of a fire.

Internal report from 2015 highlighted the risk of a 'catastrophic' fire

The Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot in Bedford, N.S., is used as a location to stockpile military equipment and ammunition. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The military ammunition depot on the shores of the Bedford Basin has been taking steps to improve its fire prevention strategy, to avoid a forecasted "catastrophic" fire outlined in a 2015 report.

The report was prepared by the Canadian Forces fire marshal in 2015 and analyzed the situation at the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot in Bedford, N.S. CBC News obtained a copy of the report and published its findings in 2017.

The report said there was a "high" risk for a "catastrophic" fire that could lead to fatalities and millions of dollars of damage.

To mitigate that risk, the military had to take action. 

Three major issues addressed

The depot is where the Canadian Armed Forces stores much of the ammunition used for East Coast operations. The supply is held in separate fortified bunkers called magazines. 

The magazines hold an assortment of armaments, including bullets, grenades, torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles.

One of the issues identified in the report was lightning protection. At Bedford's Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot, 33 of the buildings rely on a lightning protection system. The report found 26 of the buildings' lightning rods failed more than half the time. 

When CBC News first reported on the issue in early 2017, the military said a new system had been approved but not yet ordered.

CFAD Bedford is located approximately seven kilometres from downtown Halifax, and directly adjacent to a residential neighbourhood, major commuter route, and industrial park. (Google Earth)

In a statement last week, military officials confirmed the depot's lighting protection system project was completed in December 2017.

"This system is visually inspected monthly, quarterly and annually by the depot's site supervisors, a safety officer and the leadership team," the statement said.

Another issue was trees and bushes growing too close to power lines.

Along with ongoing vegetation inspections, the military said: "In April 2019, the Department of National Defence completed an extensive, four-phase tree-clearing project to create fire breaks around CFAD Bedford's entire perimeter fence." 

Hydrants on site were unreliable

A final issue was water supply for fighting fires.

The 2015 report found the hydrant system was unreliable, with a risk assessment team citing "a significant issue" with the water storage reservoir and fire pumps during a two-day visit in June 2015.

"This system, when manually activated by the team, never increased the water pressure or the flow in the water distribution system," the report said.

Fire fighters test a hydrant during a training exercise at CFAD Bedford. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The military says it is still working to improve the system, but planned upgrades haven't been installed yet. However, to account for the shortfall, the depot recently received new fire trucks.

The new trucks can fight fires not only at magazines throughout the site, but they can also venture out into the brush and forests between buildings.

The military stresses that safety is a key component of all operations at the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot.

"While the risk of fire can never be completely eliminated, the potential of any fire at CFAD leading to any type of explosive incident is remote," military officials said in a statement.

"The safety and security of DND employees and local residents remains our number one priority."