Hazardous materials are among Nanaimo’s greatest threats, but this city has no local response team to come to its aid.
It’s why Nanaimo’s emergency program manager Karen Lindsay hopes the province will put a preparedness and response organization on Vancouver Island when it rolls out a new land-based spill regime in 2017.
Last week, the B.C. government announced plans for the new regime, including a preparedness and response organization to ensure trained people are ready to immediately respond to any spill with appropriate equipment.
It will also look into hazmat response times, which don’t currently exist in B.C.
Nanaimo isn’t unprepared for a hazardous material spill. It has a consortium of first responders and private industry that discuss training and education for a greater awareness of what’s passing through Nanaimo and how to respond.
But there is no specially-trained hazmat team, which means the city is “handicapped” with spills where time is a factor, according to Lindsay.
Firefighters are only trained to take defensive action against a spill, from identifying products to evacuation. Hazmat technicians are needed to enter toxic areas with specialized equipment to turn off valves and stop leaks.
The city relies on industry, responsible for its own spills, to send a team or turn to the province for help.
Lindsay isn’t aware of any other hazmat team on the Island, although the B.C. Ministry of Environment says the Capital Regional District does have a team that can be used outside of their district with CRD approval.
“When you are having to wait for teams to come in, it takes that much longer to solve the problem and the impact to the community becomes greater,” said Lindsay.
The City of Nanaimo could build a hazmat team by adding another level of training for firefighters, but Lindsay and fire chief Craig Richardson agree it’s expensive. A regional approach is a more likely scenario, Lindsay said.
Major cities, like Vancouver, do have hazmat response.
Jonathon Gormick, public information officer for Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, said it’s a cost-benefit analysis. Vancouver is a large municipality with dangerous goods going through it. Vancouver also has a post-secondary institution with labs and two hospitals where there’s an inherent risk.