Ottawa

Growing tangle of agencies looking into fatal Merivale explosion

Yet another agency has confirmed it's helping investigate last week's industrial fire and explosion at a south Ottawa tanker truck company that's believed to have killed six people.

Ottawa labour group says it's closely watching proceedings too

An eyewitness took this photo Thursday of the blaze at the Merivale Road site of Eastway Tank, Pump and Meter. Ontario's regulator for fuels, boilers, pressure vessels and elevating devices is now investigating the fatal fire and explosion, believed to have killed six people. (Submitted by Ty Littleton)

Yet another agency, one with experience in fuel safety, has confirmed it's helping investigate last week's industrial fire and explosion in south Ottawa that's believed to have killed six people.

The Jan. 13  explosion ripped through the Merivale Road headquarters of Eastway Tank, Pump and Meter, a manufacturer of tanker trucks.

The Ottawa Police Service said one person taken to hospital died while five other people — believed to have been in the building at the time of the blast — are unlikely to have survived.

Police, the fire department, Ontario's fire marshal, the Ministry of Labour and the coroner's office are all investigating at the site.

On Saturday, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) — Ontario's regulator for fuels, boilers, pressure vessels and elevating devices — confirmed it is also at the scene. 

A TSSA spokesperson said via email they employ fuel safety experts who work with emergency services to help make post-explosion sites safe and assist in their investigations.

"Fire departments or the Office of the Fire Marshall typically request [our] assistance when the cause of a fire is unknown but may have involved fuels," the spokesperson said. 

"TSSA will also typically look into whether there was any non-compliance with provincial fuels regulations. This is just one aspect of the overall investigation underway."

Labour council keeping tabs

Another group said Saturday it would be closely watching things at 1995 Merivale Rd. too.

The Ontario District Labour Council, which represents over 90 union locals with Ottawa members, said it believes Thursday's explosion is the deadliest workplace incident in Ottawa since the 1966 collapse of what's now known as the Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge.

Dozens were injured and nine people died in that decades-old incident. 

Heron Road Bridge Collapse 1966

5 years ago
Duration 0:48
CBC-TV's John Drewery on the Heron Road Bridge Collapse 1966

Sean McKenny, the council's president, said that if criminal negligence was at play in the Eastway explosion, appropriate penalties are needed to send a strong message and prevent future workplace deaths. 

"Fines are one thing. I don't know how much money a life is worth," McKenny said. 

Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa District Labour Council. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Ontario's Ministry of Labour has confirmed an inspector issued four orders to the company in June 2017 related to issues like ventilation, welding safety and training, and exposures to hazardous chemical substances.

"I think any time the Ministry of Labour has to issue those kinds of orders and directives, there's a problem," McKenny said.

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

CBC News has asked Eastway what it did in response to the orders.

In a previous statement, Eastman president Neil Green said he was completely devastated by Thursday's events and that the company would fully cooperate with investigators. 

"We want to get to the bottom of what happened," he said. 

The site is 'heavily damaged,' according to Ottawa Police Service. (CBC)

Looking for the 'area of origin' 

Ottawa police last gave an update on Friday evening, with no indication when new details would be shared. 

Police have said the recovery and investigative work at the Eastway scene will take time, given the site was heavily damaged.

The first 24 hours of such an operation are usually focused on recovering remains, said Rene Caskanette, a private fire investigator who runs a consulting firm and used to work for the Ontario Fire Marshal's Office.

"If there's any survivors, of course, you want to recover them as well," he said.

Police have not identified any of the people missing or dead in the explosion. CBC News has independently verified the identities of two of the people presumed dead: Eastway employees Rick Bastien and Etienne Mabiala. 

Following that work, investigators will turn to the cause of the fire, Caskanette said.

"One of the things they're going to do early on is take witness statements so you get information from anybody that was on site about what may have been happening prior to the explosion to give you some clues on what went wrong," Caskanette said.

A physical examination of the scene will hopefully reveal "the area of origin," he added.

"That's usually [where there's the] heaviest damage," Caskanette said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

with files from Kate Porter and Shaamini Yogaretnam

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