Disaster planning exercise very helpful, says mill manager

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

What if a train derails near the Mitsue Industrial Park? It could easily happen and in fact it has happened, more than once. Say that train is carrying flammable materials. No stretch there – most do.

Carry that one step further and say a grass fire ignites at the scene and high winds drive it towards the mill yards. What happens? Who does what? What resources are in place? Who are the go-to people with training?

These questions are dealt with in a disaster plan somewhere, and the industrial folks meet briefly with fire department and forest protection people a couple of times a year to go over the basics. But there’s “not a lot of meat,” to it, says Slave Lake Pulp Manager Tony McWhannel.

“We’re always so busy and they’re so busy.”

That’s why a three-hour ‘table-top’ disaster scenario last week was a helpful step towards better level of preparedness.

“It was awesome,” says McWhannel. “There are so many benefits to it.”

Prepared and presented by LSRFS Chief Jamie Coutts and Jason Pankratow of Alberta Ag & Forestry, the scenario presented the above-mentioned factors and had all the industrial players role-playing as if it were actually happening.

McWhannel says he learned a lot. For one thing, the different companies have different response philosophies and different sets of resources. Knowing what to expect in the case of a disaster was one outcome of the exercise.

Of course underlying the exercise is the knowledge that if this particular scenario doesn’t play out – something else probably will. For example, in 1998 the Mitsue Fire blew across the highway, encircled Slave Lake Pulp and set some of its log decks on fire, not to mention littering its rooftop with embers. The fire carried on right up to the edge of Vanderwell’s log yard before petering out. At least two derailments have occurred in or near the industrial park in the past few years, and other wildfires have threatened. One of them was a grassfire in the ditch right in the middle of the park. On that one, a helicopter carrying forestry personnel crashed.
McWhannel is pleased about this latest development in preparedness and sees it leading to other things.

“I think down the road we’ll have people get additional incident command training,” he says.

Emergency services personnel and representatives from industrial park companies spent three hours in a mock disaster session recently, at the Mitsue Fire Hall.

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