Burnaby Mountain firehall allays some fears, but some questions still unanswered
The SFU firehall can help battle wildfires in the forested area, but how Trans Mountain will respond to a tank farm fire remains unclear
A forthcoming firehall on Burnaby Mountain offers some comfort when it comes to Trans Mountain—but questions still remain, one UniverCity resident says.
Karl Perrin, who lives on Burnaby Mountain with his wife, says the new firehall is positive news, as it will mean the city is better equipped to respond to fires in the forested area of Burnaby Mountain.
A wildfire on the mountain, Fire Chief Chris Bowcock has said in the past, could spark a much more dangerous fire in the Trans Mountain tank farm.
“There’s the risk in a dry summer that you could have quite a conflagration [of fires]. And I know Chris Bowcock said that they are trained for wildfire suppression,” Perrin said.
“So having a firehall up here would help in that regard.”
Assisting with evacuations
Mayor Mike Hurley agreed and said there was also the issue of evacuating UniverCity residents and people at SFU in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or earthquake.
“This firehall will be part of the plan for the top of the mountain to develop evacuation plans, operate evacuation plans, work with the community to ensure that we’re very well-prepared if something does happen,” Hurley said.
“And then, of course, depending on the nature of the incident, … those firefighters will be highly trained to set the stage for others coming in to assist with whatever actions have to be taken.”
But Perrin said it still doesn’t address his main concerns around Trans Mountain.
Perrin said he has been trying to get details or training on a shelter-in-place plan in the event of an earthquake—which could also spark a fire in the tank farm.
Perrin has spoken to the Beacon about this in the past. His wife has a smoke allergy, and the smoke from a tank farm fire could be devastating for her.
This is a particular concern if there is a major earthquake, he said, because of conflicting guidelines. In the event of a fire, one should stay inside to avoid the smoke. In the event of an earthquake, people are told to get out of tall buildings.
And Perrin said he’s not sure where they could go that is both indoors and earthquake-proof. He pointed to records uncovered by the Vancouver Sun in 2019 that indicated half of the university’s buildings were at “high risk” in an earthquake.
“We haven’t heard anything about training for shelter in place,” Perrin said. “I think with a firehall up here that it would be easier to bug them for things like that.”
Hurley said the Burnaby Mountain firehall would be “just part” of the city’s plan around the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
He noted the federal government has mandated that Trans Mountain must develop a plan for responding to fires. But that still hasn’t come out.
“We won’t find out their exact plans—and this is what’s limiting us to putting as many plans in place as we would like—until one year to three months out from the facility starting to operate,” Hurley said.
“So that makes it very difficult for us to finalize our plans, how we’re going to approach outside the wire, outside the fenceline, while we’re not sure what they’re going to be doing, if anything, inside that fenceline for four hours.”
This past spring, the Canada Energy Regulator conducted a fire drill at the facilities, saying the company was able to respond to a fire in two-and-a-half hours—“well within” the four-hour goal.
But Perrin and others have found little comfort in that response time.
“I’m not sure, in two-and-a-half hours to four hours if there’s been a serious fire burning, they’ll even be able to get close to that place after burning for that amount of time,” said Hurley, himself a former firefighter and former president of the local firefighters’ union.
“But that’s just me. They say they can manage it. They have convinced the regulator that they can manage it. So we’re waiting with bated breath to see what their plans are, so we can build around that.”