Eastway Tank: A family business devastated by 'tragic explosion'

Six employees from what began as an Ottawa-area family business more than 50 years ago are presumed dead in a catastrophic explosion and fire that witnesses likened to an earthquake. Here's what we know about the business.

Ottawa manufacturer had past labour orders for ventilation, welding safety

A police cruiser is shown at the entrance to Eastway Tank Pump & Meter Ltd. in Ottawa on Friday as investigators continued to look into the fatal explosion and fire that left several of the company's employees dead. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Six employees from what began as an Ottawa-area family business more than 50 years ago are presumed dead in a catastrophic explosion and fire that witnesses likened to an earthquake.

The victims were all employees of Eastway Tank, Pump & Meter Limited, a manufacturer of tanker trucks headquartered on Merivale Road.

The website for Eastway Tank was offline as of Friday morning, when city officials confirmed one of the three patients transported to hospital after Thursday afternoon's blast had succumbed to his injuries. Police also said five employees reported missing after the explosion were presumed dead, but have not yet been found.

In a statement, Eastway Tank president Neil Greene told CBC News he is "completely [devastated]" by the "tragic explosion."

"My heart goes out to their families, loved ones and to all of our employees who are reeling from this deep loss," he wrote.

Greene said the company remains in "close contact" with various investigators and will co-operate with all such investigations. Police, the fire department, the fire marshal, the Ministry of Labour and the coroner's office are all investigating — running separate but parallel investigations.

"We want to get to the bottom of what happened," Greene said in his statement.

Past labour orders for ventilation, welding safety

CBC News asked the ministry about any prior inspections at the Eastway site, and a spokesperson said Friday it had "previously completed five field visits".

An inspector issued four orders in June 2017 related to the exhaust pipe ventilation system, proper ventilation, welding safety and training, and the protection of employees from exposures to hazardous chemical substances.

We want to get to the bottom of what happened.- Neil Greene, Eastway Tank CEO

All of those orders nearly five years ago— written by a labour inspector to an employer to either comply with health and safety laws or stop work — were complied with, the spokesperson said.

"An inspector's order can require the employer to submit a plan to the ministry, specifying when and how he or she will comply with the order. An inspector may also make written observations for improved health and safety practices," according to the province's website.

The ministry also said it investigated one "employment standards claim" that was eventually settled, but gave no date or details of the claim.

Eastway Tank, Pump and Meter Limited has supplied equipment to the Ottawa Police Service and various fire departments in the past, according to documents. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Supplied equipment to police, firefighters

The company was established in 1968 by Greene's father, with the younger Greene operating at its helm since 1991, according to his LinkedIn profile and the company's incorporation records.

The company has historically supplied Ottawa police with tactical equipment vehicles and fire departments with trucks, according to various city documents related to procurement.

Its current operations appear to focus on manufacturing and servicing fuel tanker trucks, an industry that is regulated under the law for transporting dangerous goods.

Transport Canada said Eastway Tank has been registered with the department since June 1995, allowing it to repair, manufacture and modify on highway tanks primarily used to transport gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel or propane.

That certification is currently valid and remains valid until 2025.

The land on which the Merivale Road location operates and where the explosion took place is owned by Brian Greene Realty Limited, named after Greene's father, and spans 48,000 square feet of property zoned for an industrial purpose.

That location, in the area of Merivale and Macfarlane roads, is near restaurants, a car wash, and residential homes.

According to a 2011 news article in Inside Ottawa Valley, the company, which at the time was operating a Carleton Place, Ont., plant along with the Ottawa headquarters on Merivale Road, had about 50 employees between the two locations.

The Carleton Place facility was later sold to another owner and closed soon after.

It's not known how many employees were working out of the Merivale Road location on Thursday at the time of the explosion.

Employees who have listed Eastway as their workplace on Facebook or LinkedIn range from welders to electricians to plant managers, and live across the region from Almonte to Ottawa to Winchester.

In his statement, Greene pledged an unwavering commitment to the families of his employees.

"Please know that Eastway Tank will be there for you without fail in the weeks and months ahead."