Nova Scotia

Sydney officials debate who should buy specialized fire truck in wake of major gas spill

Cape Breton Regional Municipality says discussions about new equipment are underway with Imperial Oil.

CBRM says it's talking to Imperial Oil about an aircraft rescue and firefighting truck

Chris March
Deputy fire chief Chris March, left, speaks during the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's fire and emergency services committee on Wednesday in Sydney, N.S. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Fire officials, residents and Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillors met Wednesday to review what's been learned since a front-end loader punctured a fuel tank at an Imperial Oil facility in Sydney, N.S., last summer, releasing an estimated 600,000 litres of gasoline.

During the spill, the CBRM borrowed an aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) truck from the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport. At least one resident who was told to evacuate her home as the spill was being contained says the company needs the same key piece of equipment.

Grace Arsenault said she's happy the CBRM is reviewing its response, but wants Imperial Oil to purchase an ARFF truck, or something similar, that uses foam to suppress fuel vapours which create the risk of fire or explosion. 

"They talked about the price of a foam truck, which is between $500,000 and $1 million, and my gut feeling is that for the price of possibly people's lives, that's a small price tag," Arsenault said. "For a company that makes such huge revenues I think that should be doable."

Arsenault arrived at her north end Sydney home on July 8 to discover fire trucks, ambulance and police cars blocking the road. She was among the people told to evacuate 50 to 60 homes in the area during the spill. 

Grace Arsenault of Sydney, N.S.
Grace Arsenault, front, lives near the site of a major gasoline spill that occurred in Sydney, N.S., on July 8th, 2022. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

"You sure don't take for granted that you can always go home and just walk through the door of your house," said Arsenault. 

"We were told to get out of our house for our own safety, get out, don't take anything. Just go now." 

CBRM's Fire Chief Michael Seth says Imperial Oil has improved its emergency response times, but did not elaborate on the changes.

Imperial Oil representatives did not attend the fire and emergency services committee meeting and a spokesperson for the oil company could not be reached for comment. 

Talks continue with Imperial

Chris March, CBRM deputy fire chief, confirmed there is no ARFF truck currently in place at Imperial Oil's George Street facility, but discussions are ongoing. He said CBRM could possibly partner with Imperial Oil to store such equipment. 

"What they have to have on site is regulated; we don't dictate to them what they need on site," March said. "There have been meetings [with Imperial] ... and we're talking about acquiring some gear that will do the same function as the airport truck and perhaps even better."

Emergency response vehicles parked on a street.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality is reviewing the response to a spill of about 600,000 litres of gasoline from an Imperial Oil facility in Sydney, N.S., last summer. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Airport officials have said they cannot promise the equipment will be available again because they need to keep operating. 

Several CBRM councillors raised concerns about what would happen if another spill were to happen today.

Glenn Paruch, who represents CBRM's District 6, questioned why the fire service did not ask for a fire suppression truck in its budget.

"I feel that the residents now are not as safe as they could be," Paruch said. 

March responded by saying that the CBRM should not have to afford such equipment, and buying it would cut into money used to hire staff and replace outdated equipment. 

"We need so many things — to go out and request half a million or a million dollars to protect an agency that should be protecting themselves, doesn't seem responsible."



Erin Pottie


Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 17 years. Story ideas welcome at