The Pitt Meadows Fire Department will need significant upgrades in staffing, training and probably equipment if Canadian Pacific Railway proceeds with its plans for a logistics facility in the city.
Last week, CP announced its intention to build a new logistics facility next to the intermodal rail facility in Pitt Meadows.
Plans for the 41-hectare facility include a liquid energy transload and rail facility to serve the Lower Mainland’s demand for transportation fuels and ethanol.
The explosion and fire hazard this represents would be a whole new challenge for Pitt Meadows firefighters, said fire chief Mike Larsson.
Also included in the plan is an agricultural hub, where products will be received by rail and transloaded onto shipping containers for distribution around the world. Silo fires are a relatively common occurrence, and grain dust creates and explosion hazard, said Larsson.
“This is a class of hazard we haven’t seen in Pitt Meadows,” he added.
“There’s a lot of training that would go into fighting these kids of fires.”
“It definitely is a worry,” said Larsson, explaining his department as it is currently structured would not be staffed or trained to deal with the potential emergencies at the new CP Logistics Park: Vancouver.
They will need to have four firefighters, if not six, on staff 24-7, he said.
The Pitt Meadows hall, which has operated as a paid on-call department historically, is adding four new full-time firefighters in 2021. That will bring it to eight full-time firefighters.
To have four career firefighters on duty at all times, the city would need to have 20 career firefighters, he said.
There has been no communication from CP that the railway would be willing to pay to upgrade the Pitt Meadows fire response.
In January of 2018 there was a fire at CP facilities in Port Coquitlam, when a semi-trailer carrying ethanol struck a train. A fireball erupted that could be seen from neighbouring cities.
Larsson said PoCo firefighters were first on the scene, before CP arrived with its own trucks and crews, and they were on the scene all evening.
“It’s nothing I would like to see in Pitt Meadows, but as the mayor says, I don’t know if we can stop it.”
Mayor Bill Dingwall said CP owns the land, and is federally regulated, so the city would face an uphill battle in derailing CP’s plans for a logistics facility. The transportation of goods is a national interest.
He said national standards appear to require six firefighters on at all times, and council will push to have CP supplement the fire department, and minimize the public safety risk.
“Safety is at the core of everything we do at CP,” said company spokesperson Salem Woodrow. “For the past 14 years, CP has led North American Class 1 railways with the lowest Federal Railroad Administration train accident frequency.”
Woodrow said this project is in the early stages of consideration and design, and CP will work with stakeholders and the community throughout the extensive regulatory review process. Pending regulatory approval and a final investment decision, construction of the project would likely begin in 2026, and it would not be operational until 2027/2028.
“Should the project proceed, CP will continue to work closely with emergency response agencies to ensure the necessary resources and procedures are in place when the facility begins operation.”