Poor road sanding raises ire of Colchester firefighter during emergency call

Harry Sullivan hsullivan@trurodaily.com
Published on January 10, 2017

North River firefighter John MacKay says icy road conditions reduced the safety level for members who responded to a house fire in Nuttby recently.

©Harry Sullivan/TC Media

NORTH RIVER, N.S. – When John MacKay arrived at the scene of a recent house fire and requested sand for the icy, gravel road, he expected some delay.

The North River firefighter did not, however, expect to be told it would be more than three hours before the transportation department could get a plow truck to Nuttby, especially after he had just seen one nearby on Highway 311 a short while before.

“We knew that there was a plow in the area,” said MacKay, the first firefighter to arrive at the scene on Sutherland Road. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t get a truck sooner than that. I don’t understand the three-hour, three-and-a half-hour delay.”

MacKay said the unattached garage was a fully involved fire when he arrived. With tanker and pump trucks on the way, he had hoped some sand could be put down on the road to ease the icy conditions.

“We did have one man fall (down),” he said.

Firefighters from the Tatamagouche and Valley Kemptown brigades also responded to the fire call and while the garage was completely destroyed, MacKay said damage to the house was contained to the exterior.

I don’t understand why we couldn’t get a truck sooner than that. I don’t understand the three-hour, three-and-a half-hour delay North River firefighter John MacKay

Although icy conditions did not prevent firefighters from conducting their tasks, it would have made a “big difference” if a sand truck could have been dispatched within a reasonable time frame, he said.

“It would have made it a lot safer.”

The fire call was paged out at 1:34.

Basil Pitts, area manager for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said a plow truck had sanded the road around noon.

As far as the three-hour plus timeline the dispatcher had told MacKay it would take to get a truck to the site, Pitts said he was unable to confirm that information.

“I’m not sure where that came from,” he said.

And Pitts said the plow driver did stop at the end of Sutherland Road on his way back through the area but the road was blockaded and he was told by a firefighter manning the site that there were too many fire vehicles on the road for him to make it through.

“That would be the first I heard of that,” MacKay said, in expressing skepticism over that account, because he said fire trucks could have been moved to make room for the plow.

And while he acknowledged there was some evidence of previous sanding on the road, he chuckled at the prospect it had been properly sanded only an hour-and-a-half before the fire call.

“If they had just been in there at noon and done that, they didn’t do a very good job of it,” he said.

“One of our members was right on a spot they had sanded and he went right down on his back. It wasn’t spread very thick.”