Fire department showcases new hazmat response unit

Duane Hicks

The Fort Frances Fire and Rescue Service now is better prepared to deal with hazardous materials thanks to a recently-acquired Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) response unit.
Valued at just under $100,000, the unit was purchased through a grant from the Public Safety Canada and Joint Emergency Preparedness Program, with the Town of Fort Frances picking up the other half of the tab.
The unit will enable the fire department to make an effective initial response on a local or regional basis to emergencies that are chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear in nature until a provincial Level III team can arrive on scene, Fort Frances Fire Chief Frank Sheppard said Friday.
The Level III team for this area responds from Windsor, so the initial response here will provide a stopgap measure until advanced supports arrives, he noted.
Not only will the CBRN response unit be beneficial to Fort Frances in the event of an emergency, but also to Rainy River District and International Falls.
Firefighters are receiving incident response training, along with training to properly use equipment within the response unit, Chief Sheppard said.
As well, the Fort Frances Fire and Rescue Service will be holding an operations-level hazardous materials training program here in early July—something made possible thanks to the new CBRN unit.
Mayor Roy Avis said getting the JEPP grant made it possible for council to factor the CBRN response unit into the town’s budget.
“I think for the safety of the people in the future, it’s going to be a real asset to the community,” he remarked.
“Council’s been very supportive of these initiatives,” noted Chief Sheppard.
“You hope you never have to use it, but you have it when you need it,” added Mayor Avis.
“This is a great asset to have,” agreed Patrick Briere, public information officer for the Municipal Emergency Control Group.
The CBRN response unit is a trailer full of upgraded equipment to help firefighters deal with hazardous materials.
It houses CBRN breathing apparatus, radiation and contamination meters, and gas monitors, to name just a few types of gear.
While some people might question why the fire department would need to measure radioactivity, Chief Sheppard said some transport trucks and survey vehicles that pass through the region carry radioactive materials, so it’s necessary to have the right equipment to measure radioactivity if there’s an accident.
As well, if there was a mass contamination incident, the fire department could set up a decontamination line and get the contamination values reduced so that people could be transported to a hospital without risk of cross-contamination once they get there, he added.
“We can do primary decontamination and hazard reduction on-site, and then when the people are transported, they are basically going there clean,” Chief Sheppard explained.
Equipment purchased with the CBRN unit already has been used to three save three lives.
Chief Sheppard said firefighter Rob Dokuchie used a new photoionization detector while on a call to a local residence where a family had reported a funny smell in their home. It turned out to be coming from their furnace, which had a cracked heat exchanger.
Dokuchie detected that the home had a carbon monoxide level of 400 parts per million—an amount that poses a short-term high risk and far exceeded the acceptable 25 parts per million, which is considered the maximum level of acceptable exposure on a daily basis.
“If that family had gone to bed that night, they wouldn’t have awakened in the morning,” stressed Chief Sheppard.
“You can already look at it and see that we didn’t have that capacity before.”
The family did not have a carbon monoxide detector in their home, with Chief Sheppard noting this was a good example of why all residences should have them.
The new CBRN unit was showcased May 12 during the Emergency Services Day at Canadian Tire here.
People had the chance to walk through the trailer, check out the response equipment, and have their questions answered.
Other organizations on hand that day included the Ministry of Natural Resources’ fire program, the Town of Fort Frances Municipal Emergency Control Group, and the Canadian Red Cross—each spreading their own emergency preparedness message.
Chief Sheppard said the event not only gave the individual organizations the chance to meet with the public, but provided the opportunity to show district residents that local services have the ability and willingness to work together to provide community support in the event of any emergency.