The call went out early Saturday morning.
“There’s a fire and a sodium chlorate car nearby.”
It wasn’t real, but for the next few hours, everyone on scene at Northern Pulp treated it as an actual emergency.
Approximately 90 people from 15 agencies and fire departments in Pictou County participated in a hazmat training exercise at the mill, including the site’s own emergency response team.
The team’s 35 members are trained for medical first response, industrial fire, hazardous materials operations/awareness, confined space rescue and working at heights rescue.
“Because of the mutual aid component, if there were an emergency in the community, our people are able to respond if a call comes out. They respond to us; we respond to them if need be,” said Kathy Cloutier, communications director for Northern Pulp.
The scenario on the weekend involved a fire near a railcar filled with sodium chlorate, a bleaching chemical Northern Pulp buys in crystallized form.
“It’s a strong oxidizer. By itself, it’s not flammable. It needs a spark. So if it gets on anything that is flammable, if it gets a spark, it’ll auto-ignite and then it’ll start a fire,” said Ryan Roddick, a hazmat technician and Northern Pulp employee.
There was no real risk during the exercise, with the fire controlled and the railcar free of chemicals, but Cloutier noted the community was notified of the exercise so no one would be alarmed.
Billy Kontuk, deputy chief of Northern Pulp’s emergency response team, reviewed the order of response.
“It’s great because it lets a lot of our junior members, our younger members, see what the county has to offer for support, and it lets them understand and know what their roles are on the team, what’s to be expected,” said Kontuk.
Everyone on scene had a role, from incident command to researcher of the chemical. Though the exercise happens each year, organizers try to change the scenario and allow different people to take on new roles.
“If you just come in the same year and do the exact same thing, nobody learns anything and this is all about learning where your shortcomings are so you can build on it so you’re good for total response,” said Kontuk.
He suggested the likelihood of something like this happening isn’t very strong, adding the emergency response team is well trained and employees take their jobs seriously.
“Knock on wood, hopefully we never have one of these calls and they’re all just practices.”
Following the exercise, participants went back to the Abercrombie Fire Hall for refreshments and a debriefing.
Aside from a few initial communication issues, there weren’t any problems, Kontuk said, noting they received water from Michelin and it was a “good community effort.”