“This cell phone was a godsend during this whole emergency,” Fire Chief Jim Regimbal said as he reflected on the events of last week’s LNG tanker rollover just across the bridge from Dawson City.
He was able to use it from the very beginning of the crisis on Tuesday evening, Regimbal was able to contact a variety of people and organizations while he was actually at the site and describe exactly what the situation was.
“I was in a conference call right on the scene, right there, as opposed to radioing back to dispatch (at the fire hall), getting them to make the phone call.”
The links would have been clumsier, though still better than the week before when cell phone service was down for most of a day.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “that would have made things much more difficult.”
Dawson actually has an Emergency Response Action Plan, and several scenarios have been practiced as table-top exercises over the last few years, including a 2010 exercise called Operation Fireball, which had involved a tanker load of an unknown substance actually burning on the Ogilvie Bridge after a collision.
All the exercises have been built around the Incident Command System, which lays out the steps to be taken in different types of emergencies, who’s in charge, what resources to call on, etc.
In this case there was no mystery. The driver had the shipping manifest readily available so the contents and its condition were known, and the 1-800 number to call in case of an incident was right there.
Regimbal was quickly in contact with Ottawa based Canutec, which produces the Emergency Response Guide. The proper guide page was stenciled on the tanker in large letters that could be read from a distance with binoculars.
“This provides all the parameters,” he said, “safe distances, what to do, whether you should put water on the product or foam, how it mixes with things.”
The phone call to Canutec was initiated at the dispatch office. Canutec linked to Transport Canada and to Regimbal’s cell phone at the site.
The tanker was not leaking and the pressure was stable, so then the fire department, RCMP and the driver were on the scene. Next Quantum Murray, the company responsible for the Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) was brought into the conversation. FortisBC, a British Columbia energy company, was actually responsible for the contents of the tanker, and they were contacted as well.
“With all these players, we’re all talking in about 15 minutes,” said Regimbal. “What was really nice is that a lot of the time when you’re talking to people who aren’t on the scene they try to run things, where here it was just ‘this is the information you have’ and the information they provided was fantastic.”
This left Regimbal in the position of being the “incident commander” until the experts in handling this product arrived about 18 hours later. Then he handed control over to the newly arrived Quantum and Fortis people.
In the meantime, local cooperation was great. The Highways Dept. provided necessary signs and barricade material. Yukon Energy made ready to move power lines where needed. A crane was dispatched from Whitehorse and a relief tanker from Delta, B.C., where FortisBC is headquartered. Snowy road conditions meant the tanker took longer than originally expected, but there were no problems with the rolled tanker, so that was all right.
In the event that problems developed, a piece of equipment called a vaporizer was on site to handle venting the LNG if necessary. That would have taken four days from start to finish and venting was definitely not the desired plan of action, but it was a backup.
Grenon Enterprises provided four yards of gravel to build up a cushion in the area where the tanker had to be flipped and Crawford Mining provided two large loaders to help the crane lift and balance the tanker as it was rolled onto its wheels.
Of the three businesses close to the site, only the Bonanza Gold Hotel and RV Park had to close down for the entire period. Northern Superior, Advance North and Dawson City Gas and Tire were open until Friday morning, when the operation to right the tanker and drain it was put into place.
On Friday morning the recovery exercise got under way around 9:30, after several adjustments to the timetable. Residents with internet access were kept informed of changes by means of Facebook postings on several sites as well as announcements on CBC radio.
Traffic was redirected through the adjoining parking lots of Bonanza Gold and Dawson City Gas and Tire for much of the morning, with complete road closures amounting to 43 minutes in total put in place during the more sensitive parts of the operation.
The tanker was back on its wheels by shortly after 1 o’clock. By 3:45 the product had been transferred to the back-up tanker and both had been moved as an inspector had determined it was safe to drive the one that had rolled. Half an hour later the power lines were back in place and the highway was open to regular traffic once more.
There was a Friday night debriefing/BBQ for those who had worked on the job.
‘There’s more to come,” Regimbal said. “You learn from everything, learn how we can deal with this better, take the good and the bad from it.”
He’s pretty certain that this is the first incident quite like this in the territory, at least in his decade here, and it raises issues about safe transit, parking and various other things. He’s welcoming that discussion at all levels.
In a final Facebook post on the event, Mayor Wayne Potoroka was effusive in his praise.
It’s always a great honour for me to say ‘thanks’ on behalf of the community when the DCFD responds to a fire. It’s even nicer to say ‘thanks’ for their role in helping ensure one didn’t get started in the first place.
“And while it’s tough to imagine what must have been going through the minds of the firefighters as they first approached that tanker, wondering what potentially dangerous situation they were walking into, it’s important for all of us to acknowledge that if the worst case scenario happened—like it has in other communities—the Dawson City Fire Department were there and ready to deal with it. That warrants not only a ‘thanks’ to them, but their families, too.”
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