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Burnaby fire chief calls on feds for funds to address Trans Mountain safety concerns

New fire hall, more firefighters, training needed to deal with increased risks from expanded tank farm on Burnaby Mountain, says Chief Chris Bowcock
TMX fire
Burnaby fire Chief Chris Bowcock calls for federal funding for extra firefighters, training and infrastructure to protect residents from the risks associated with an expanded Trans Mountain tank farm on Burnaby Mountain.

A surprise inspection at Trans Mountain’s Burnaby Mountain tank farm last week showed the company could be ready to start fighting a full-surface crude oil tank fire well within the four-hour target for the facility, but that doesn’t cut it for Burnaby’s fire chief.

Canada Energy Regulator inspectors and an Indigenous monitor descended on the tank farm at 4 p.m. on Thursday without warning and ordered the company to run through a tank fire simulation.

Initial findings showed Trans Mountain was able to get the necessary personnel and equipment on site and ready to start fighting the fire and controlling a potential boil-over in two-and-a-half hours, according to a press release form the energy regulator.

But that still puts local residents at risk, according to fire Chief Chris Bowcock, especially given that the tank farm’s capacity is set to triple as part of the Trans Mountain expansion project.

“During this entire two-and-a-half-hour period, the tank fire will burn unrestricted,” he told the NOW.

Bowcock said a tank fire would have “immediate life and safety impacts” and require a “very strong” fire department response within the first 10 minutes to protect people, property and parkland outside the tank farm fence from heat, fire and toxic smoke.

To address the extra risk that would come with an expanded tank farm, Bowcock said the fire department needs more firefighters, training and equipment – and the federal and provincial governments should step up and pay for them.

Bowcock was at a press conference at the Hastings fire hall last week with Burnaby city councillor Sav Dhaliwal and New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian calling for the federal government to commit to $8 million a year in fire department funding and pay for a new fire hall on top of Burnaby Mountain.

“And it needs to start now because, as the construction ramps up on this pipeline that Mr. Trudeau wants to ram through, we also need to have those resources available for the training, equipment and infrastructure so that the citizens of Burnaby are protected,” Julian said.

Dhaliwal said the city shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the cost.

Bowcock said the new fire hall is needed on top of Burnaby Mountain to protect people at SFU and the UniverCity development in case a fire forces the closure of their only two access roads, which converge just north of the tank farm fence.

Burnaby North-Seymour Liberal MP Terry Beech, whose riding Burnaby Mountain is in, did not respond to a request for comment on the calls for funding.

In statement in June 2019, after the Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion and re-approved the expansion project, Beech reiterated his personal view that “the tank farm does not belong on Burnaby Mountain.”

But he reassured residents that he, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mayor Mike Hurley and the fire department had met in June that year to discuss how they could make Burnaby Mountain “safer than it is today.”

“The Prime Minister assured our community that the necessary resources will be in place and that we will work directly with the Mayor and the Fire Department to ensure this is the case,” Beech wrote.

Julian called the Liberal government out on that promise last week.

“We have seen now, over the last few weeks, Mr. Trudeau ramping up construction of the pipeline, pushing through, cutting down trees, and yet there has been utter silence when it comes to putting in place important safety precautions that will keep the citizens of Burnaby protected,” Julian said.

Julian said his party has written a letter to Trudeau calling for financial support to help the local fire department deal with the increased risks associated with the expanded tank farm.

Trans Mountain has long pointed out the facility has operated for 60 years without a fire.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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