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From the Editor: April 2009

After we went to press with this issue of Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly, a lawyer with Stevensons LLP in Toronto, which specializes in litigation, was to ask a judge to allow a $300-million class-action lawsuit to proceed against Sunrise Propane and landowner Teskey Concrete Co. Ltd.

March 27, 2009
By Laura King


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After we went to press with this issue of Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly, a lawyer with Stevensons LLP in Toronto, which specializes in litigation, was to ask a judge to allow a $300-million class-action lawsuit to proceed against Sunrise Propane and landowner Teskey Concrete Co. Ltd.

Months after the Aug. 10 explosion and fire, people who live near the Sunrise site still aren’t back in their homes, still don’t know who’s paying for the damage and still don’t understand how Sunrise managed to have so many propane tanks and other materials on its site, in apparent contravention of its licence.

There’s a simple answer. One watchdog monitors such things – the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). It’s a provincial non-profit regulatory agency responsible for regulating fuels, amusement devices, elevators, boiler and pressure vessels and ski lifts, among other things.

With more than 5,800 licensed propane storage facilities in Ontario, the TSSA’s mandate is overwhelming. Indeed, the agency was chastised after the Sunrise blast when it couldn’t accurately state the number of propane depots in the province. And, as the NDP pointed out, Premier Dalton McGuinty criticized the creation of the TSSA when he was in opposition.

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The Toronto Sun noted that the TSSA faces almost two dozen lawsuits over elevators and escalator accidents in Toronto alone. It also noted that in the wake of the Sunrise explosion, the TSSA was criticized for its lax propane inspection guidelines. To its credit, TSSA has posted on its website the 40 recommendations of a panel that reviewed the Sunrise incident and its responses to the recommendations.

The quick action of the Ontario government in commissioning the panel is commendable. But the fact remains that the Sunrise site was licenced for two propane storage tanks but was littered with hundreds of propane cylinders. In addition, tanker trucks were parked at the site, which lies in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. (See story on page 8.) After the blast, opposition politicians said regulation of the fuels sector should be returned to government.
In its extensive report, the review panel recommended:
•    that licence approvals for propane facilities must make it clear that operators reassess the land development around them, and that municipalities need to notify propane facility operators about development plans close to a depot’s defined hazard distance;
•     that the province ask the Canadian Standards Association to update the propane installation code, with a focus on setback distances, emergency response plans and special fire protection;
•     that propane operators be required to carry insurance as a condition of licensing;
•    that annual inspections of propane facilities are needed until the TSSA has enough data to develop a more rigorous, statistical approach to safety, under which higher-risk facilities would get more in-depth attention.
•    and that there be better storage data on what’s at each site, including so-called transient storage in cylinders, tanks, tanker trucks and rail cars and improved safety training for propane workers.

The Sunrise blast caused millions in damages to nearby homes and put thousands of area residents at risk. Among those at most risk were the firefighters who responded to the call, not knowing what was on the site or what might happen next. The expectation by residents and politicians is that first responders will deal with whatever’s thrown at them – and they do. Having regulations in place that at least ensure a modicum of safety for first responders is the responsibility of the government lawmakers. It’s time they stepped up.


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