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A disaster averted, but will our luck run out?

Deb believes our good fortune has led to unacceptable apathy
Crews survey the damage at the scene of a coal train derailment where 27 cars came off the track near New Hazelton, spilling some coal into Mission Creek. If the Port of Prince Rupert’s (PPR) expansion goes to plan, CN will be shipping a lot more flammable gases through the Bulkley Valley. (Emergency Management B.C. photo)

Do you know where you would evacuate to if there was a major incident at CN Rail in Smithers?

If you live on the CN side of Highway 16, you almost had to figure it out last Tuesday, Mar. 21, in the early morning, when there was a railcar on fire in Smithers and the fire departments had to find out exactly what was burning from CN, which takes precious time.

It is a scary thought, but the fact that 2,500 people live in close proximity to the rail yard means you could have had to get out fast. You’d best find out the plan for Smithers, Telkwa and all communities surrounding Highway 16 and CN Rail.

There are numerous websites for Emergency Preparedness, but the Town of Smithers and Village of Telkwa will have the evacuation zones for our areas on their websites by Mar. 31, and by hard copy in their offices. For those in rural areas the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) already has it online. You should also sign up for Voyent emergency alerts.

In Tuesday morning’s event in Smithers the Smithers and Telkwa Fire Rescue crews put the fire out by using their tankers.

Why did they use tankers and not the hydrants on CN property? They don’t work, I’m told, and CN doesn’t have to make them work as the CN property is private property.

I find this absolutely outrageous. I was also informed there are no designated or trained disaster crews from CN in Smithers, they are located in Prince George, Kamloops and Vancouver.

Now I am furious and speechless. What use is that if we only have 20 minutes to respond?

READ MORE: Crews respond to fire in rail car

I reached out to Taylor Bachrach, to let him know, as he is our member of Parliament (and a Smithers resident), and is on the House of Commons Transportation Committee. I think you should too, as this situation is unacceptable.

We also have Highway 16 that runs right through all of our towns, and the amount of hazardous goods being transported is huge and increasing every day. The hazardous goods run the gamut from fuel to nuclear material for our hospital x-ray departments.

Did you ever think about that? On our highway full of cracks, potholes and small shoulders combined with volatile weather conditions and large volumes of traffic, you could be behind a transport truck that could literally “blow us all to smithereens.”

Not funny by a long shot.

Matt Herzog, our local director of Emergency Support Services and Shane Vanderwater from the FireSmart program, gave numerous community information meetings on each and every evacuation zone in Smithers and Telkwa, where to go and what to take, and how to also prepare yourself and property for the possibility of a wildfire.

Do you know how many people showed up for all of their hard work?

Twenty-two people, out of a total of 11 meetings in two communities. The RDBN also had meetings for the rural zones. The apathy is unbelievable to me. The Emergency Support Services Team and volunteer firefighters helped knock on every door along Railway Avenue (across from the CN rail yard) and you would think people would want to know how to get out, where to go, what to take. Nope.

The efforts have been made to inform the public regarding disasters, and I’m not sure what everyone is thinking, but it could be a natural disaster such as forest fire, flood, etc., or man-made ones such as a huge collision on the highway in town or yes, CN burning or worse, exploding.

It is often said the best people to rally behind such efforts of preparing are the ones who have been through a disaster. So apparently our good fortune has led to our apathy. It is dangerous thinking that “it won’t happen here.”

We need to collectively get informed and demand action from our towns and MPs for safer rail yards and highways. As individuals, we need to ask people such as Matt and Shane to redo their presentations, and we bloody well need to show up.

Are we going to wait for something to happen and then complain about who is at fault, or are we going to become proactive individuals and communities who know what to do, how to help and where to go?

You almost found out the answer last Tuesday morning at 5:30 a.m. when the firefighters were desperately trying to find out from CN what exactly was on fire. Think about that for a little bit.

A train derailment near Kitwanga, B.C., between Smithers and Terrace, is shown in this January 2020 handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Transportation Safety Board of Canada)
DBS Environmental Services, the contractor handling the Hazardous Material in these trucks. (Kevin Sabo/Castor Advance)
One person died and another was taken to hospital following a collision involving two commercial vehicles and a pickup truck. (Skilled Truckers Canada photo)
Crash on Highway shows how many trucks are on the highways in B.C. (Skilled Truckers/ Facebook)
Semi crashes into the water. (Facebook)
Pictured is a collision between a car and a semi-truck. (Paul Rodgers file)