High confidence in response plan

Darrell Cole
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Emergency personnel in ability to respond

EMO officials in Cumberland County are confident in their ability to respond to a rail incident like the one in Plaster Rock, N.B.

Emergency responders in Amherst and Cumberland County are confident in their ability to respond to a rail derailment similar to what’s taking placing Plaster Rock, N.B.

UPPER NAPPAN – Cumberland County’s regional emergency management co-ordinator says the region is prepared as it can be for a rail mishap like what’s taking place in Plaster Rock, N.B.

“There are some things you can never prepare for, but we are as prepared as we can be for an incident like that,” Jim Hannon said. “We have an all hazards plan that’s continually being tested and updated and we have policies and procedures that we’re always going over to make sure we’re ready.”

Seventeen railcars derailed near the northern New Brunswick community late Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents. Nine of the cars were carrying dangerous goods, including oil from western Canada on its way to a refinery in Saint John, N.B.

Hannon said a lot of people don’t think twice about what’s passing through Amherst and other communities on daily basis. Whether by rail or via the Trans-Canada Highway, a lot of dangerous goods are moving through populated areas without anyone in those communities knowing.

“The bottom line is our goal is to move people out of harm’s way as quickly as possible and look after them,” Hannon said. “It goes beyond getting them to safety to looking after their needs long after the TV cameras have gone and things settle down. That means having a plan in place that takes advantage of what services all the agencies have to offer.”

Hannon said fire departments and emergency responders regularly practice simulations involving rail accidents including the release of dangerous chemicals into the air and the environment as well as the potential for fire.

EMO officials have quick access to hazardous materials teams and there is a strong working relationship with the Red Cross’ Amherst office and other agencies.

Amherst Fire Chief Bill Crossman said his department has a response plan in the event of a derailment inside town. He said CN has a company it uses to cleanup after an incident, while the fire department’s role would be one of containment.

Crossman said fire officials would work with other stakeholders to move people out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.

“Fortunately derailments are few and far between here,” he said. “When you consider the amount of material being transported by rail and by road every single day you realize it’s pretty safe. The key is to be ready and prepared for when something does happen.”

Crossman only remembers one derailment involving chemicals in Amherst. He said several cars left the rails on South Albion Street about three decades ago. One of the cars contained sulfuric acid that was quickly contained by firefighters.

The Amherst chief said his department has a hazardous materials team and has access to seven other haz-mat units in the province, while there are also mutual aid agreements with neighbouring fire departments.

As for outside town, Hannon said officials here have been working with their counterparts in Cumberland and Colchester on developing a response plan for the corridor that runs from the Isthmus of Chignecto to Truro, while similar plans are in place for the Truro-Halifax corridor and Truro-Sydney corridor.


Twitter: @ADNdarrell

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway, Red Cross

Geographic location: Amherst, Cumberland County, Plaster Rock New Brunswick Canada Saint John South Albion Street Colchester

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