No injuries were reported following a propane leak in Terrace on Sunday morning that resulted in Hwy 16 being closed off and nearby businesses evacuated.
At approximately 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 26, emergency teams cordoned off the road between Tetrault and Kerr streets in response to the 911 call at the local Superior Propane dock near the CN tracks.
“The leak of a propane substance covers many issues, one of them obviously being a fire or explosion if there was an ignition source close by,” says Terrace Fire Department deputy fire chief Dave Jephson.
“As a chief, I was very proud of how everybody worked together… It’s been years and years of training, coordination, and collaboration with other groups [to resolve this safely].”
The Terrace Fire Department, which had 14 members attend the scene along with Terrace RCMP, WorkSafeBC and a traffic control agency, was on with phone with CN Rail’s HAZMAT teams and several dangerous goods technicians from across the province. BC Ambulance was also on standby in case any medical attention was required.
Jephson says Superior Propane staff noticed the leak coming from one of the tanks delivered to their Terrace location and following protocol by immediately notifying authorities to let them know of the potential public hazard.
“The operator was doing a test sample when one of the valves on the tank wasn’t fully turned off. When he released his hose, it started to release propane into the atmosphere which obviously created a concern,” says Jephson.
He says their first step was to eliminate any sources that could create a spark by keeping vehicles off nearby roads and halting trains traffic in both directions on CN Rail tracks.
“We first set up at a safe distance away, using binoculars to verify what was leaking… The crews were able to then get up on top of the car and with a wrench, they were able to loosen the handle and refit it so it stopped the leak,” he says. “It’s hard to say [how much leaked]… with propane, it looks 10 times worse than it is when you see the white cloud.”
The vapour cloud of propane was then carried away from the tracks by the wind away as crews managed to prevent further exposure.
With 300 rail cars carrying propane travelling through Terrace daily, and more expected with the regional industrial boom, Jephson notes this was an ideal opportunity to practice their hazardous material emergency response skills.
He predicts this isn’t the last event Terrace will experience and that it’s important for emergency response crews to have as much onsite training as possible to be better prepared in case of a more serious incident.
“Training is key because there are always different techniques. There are different tools that come with different procedures and we all learn from that,” he says, emphasizing many of their emergency response members have been sent to a variety of workshops with CN Rail and across the continent to be better prepared for any type of situation beyond structure fires.
He also says 90 per cent of propane leaks like this happen when the rail cars are being loaded or unloaded, which isn’t too common for Terrace.
“We don’t actually have a start and end destination here in the city so that’s why the risk definitely goes down for us,” he explains.
“We have the one place [Superior Propane] that unloads propane so that’s our only concern for us… and in all future incidents that we’re going to face here in Terrace, I just hope it goes as well as it did [on Sunday].”
In an email to the Terrace Standard, a media spokesperson for CN rail writes that “safety is a core value at CN” and that “by precautionary measure, CN stopped its traffic in the area and collaborated with the local emergency services.”
Terrace RCMP confirmed their involvement, stating they were requested to assist the Terrace Fire Department when the call initially took place and helped detour traffic until private traffic control personnel took over.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure was also notified of the incident.
Hwy 16 was reopened to regular traffic at approximately 12:20 p.m. on Sunday.