Saanich firefighters Arlin Baillie and Dan McLaughlin in CRD Hazmat (Level A) suits with hidden air tanks prepare to enter the ammonia room at Saanichs Pearkes Arena during a mock-emergency drill in Saanich on Oct. 17. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Watch: Saanich responds to mock emergency for ammonia Leak

Hazmat suits, emergency centre respond to mock ammonia leak

Luckily, it was only a drill.

If Wednesday morning’s mock emergency operation in Saanich was real, more than 500 people would have been evacuated from within a 500-metre radius of Pearkes Rec. Centre. The drill started around 9 a.m. when a fictional truck collided into the side of Pearkes Arena, creating an ammonia leak. The amount of ammonia that the drill suggested could have easily been fatal for those in the immediate vicinity.

“The truck ruptured the ammonia chilling equipment that makes the ice,” Deputy Chief Dan Wood explained.

Saanich fire, police, CRD Hazmat and Pearkes staff mustered in the Saanich mobile command unit in the Pearkes parking lot while 45 members of Saanich staff, fire and police all came together in the Saanich emergency operations centre at Saanich municipal hall. The exercise was coordinated over several months by the Saanich Emergency Program and is the third year of a three year plan to train and prepare Saanich staff for an emergency protocol, Deputy Chief Frank MacDonald said.

READ ALSO: Council warned of meth lab in Saanich’s Cuthbert Holmes Park

READ ALSO: Inspections, training needed to prevent repeat of Fernie ammonia leak across B.C.

At the arena, Pearkes staff exercised its exposure control plans. The CRD Hazmat team and truck arrived, setting up a de-contaminating area for the firefighters after they returned from the contaminated area of the arena.

After a short banter as to the merits of why you would, or wouldn’t bringing a knife under the hazmat Level A vapour sealed suit (both had good reasoning), the two firefighters zipped into the suits, breathing through air tanks, and entered Pearkes just before 10 a.m.

By 10:15 a.m., and with the remaining ammonia sealed inside the building, Saanich Fire declared a worsening situation, creating a “prolonged emergency event.”

That’s when the team of 45 at Saanich municipal hall continue to run through a convoluted series of exercises at the Saanich emergency operation centre.

“The EOC supports the event or emergency site, it’s not trying to fix the problem, but make sure they have the resources and information they need to be successful at the site,” MacDonald said.

The day-long exercise continued and also included observers and participants from Emergency Management BC, WorkSafe, CRD Hazmat, University of Victoria, BC Transit, and contractors. Throughout the exercise Saanich communications would have released a series of updates to the media and public through social media.

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