Opinion: These are the scariest things I heard at Burnaby tank farm safety event

Chris Campbell

Chris Bowcock helps me sleep at night.

This might seem to be a weird thing to say about the deputy fire chief for the Burnaby Fire Department, but it’s true.

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I’ve heard Bowcock speak a few times about fire safety issues on the top and bottom of Burnaby Mountain – where I live – and he’s always articulate and organized. He’s a man with a plan who is always working to make that plan even better.

Bowcock was speaking again on Wednesday night at a meeting organized for residents of the Forest Grove neighbourhood, which is situated close to the Trans Mountain tank farm facility that will grow if the pipeline expansion project does eventually get off the ground.

The meeting drew a large crowd to Forest Grove Elementary, where residents heard from Mayor Mike Hurley, city staff and Bowcock about safety issues related to the Trans Mountain project.

I want to be delicate here because I don’t want to offend the residents. A few of the complaints about the existing tank farm were a little ridiculous. One guy was angry at the City of Burnaby for not doing enough to force the federal government to “shut down” the tank farm and “move it to the airport.” First, the city has no power or leverage to push the feds to do anything and, secondly, if you hate and fear the existing tank farm so much, why did you move into the neighbourhood next to it? It was there first.

I live just above the tank farm and don’t complain about it because I knew about it when I moved there.

Now, that’s just about the tank farm as it is now. When it comes to the Trans Mountain expansion, I have great sympathy about that because it’s going to increase the risks by greatly expanding what is there.

That’s what really scares me.

Here are some of the things Bowcock said about the Trans Mountain project that scared me the most:

  1. Some of the tanks won’t be replaced. A few of the existing tanks are from the 1953 era, but Bowcock said they won’t be replaced if the expansion is approved. That means they will just keep getting older and riskier.
  2. One of the proposed news tanks will be just 272 metres from the elementary school. That seems awfully close in case of a fire or failure.
  3. The proposed design of the roadways on the tank farm site. Bowcock said it’s unclear of the configuration that will be built and how it will impact firefighting efforts to access all areas of the site with water trucks.
  4. Trans Mountain is responsible for fighting fires inside the tank farm fence. Burnaby firefighters deal with everything outside of the fence line, but Trans Mountain staff will be the ones who must fight a fire and deal with any emergencies inside. The problem for Bowcock is Trans Mountain doesn’t have to reveal all of its firefighting plans right now. Trans Mountain will eventually have to “demonstrate” that it can deal with a fire on the tank farm grounds and not just have theoretical plans.

But as far as how Burnaby firefighters will deal with emergencies surrounding the tank farm, Bowcock was clear in the approaches and training our local fire department have developed to deal with various scenarios.

That is what helps me sleep at night.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.


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