Written by Jamie Coutts
At 9 p.m. on Nov. 20, the tones went off for a tank truck fire in our district. In Slave Lake District, 50 super B oil tankers haul oil products through the region daily.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
Not too many departments get the chance to work with air ambulance very often, so when they do it is often a new thing for them. This article was written right after an incident occurred which required air ambulance to attend.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
In our look back at the last 10 years, there has been a lot of attention devoted to moving the handline. There has been a paradigm shift in the fire service due to firefighters like Aaron Fields, Andy Fredericks, Dave McGrail and others. This article was written back in 2008 when the paradigm started to take flight.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
We are continuing with a look back over the last 10 years with articles that have been a highlight based on the topic or feedback. This article was published in August 2009 and was a highlight because of the topic: not much is discussed about overhaul.  
Written by Mark van der Feyst
This year, Back to Basics has reached a milestone. We are entering our 10th year of publication. When I look back on the past 10 years, I am amazed at how much we have covered. I must admit that I never thought this column would last five years, let alone 10. For our 10-year anniversary, I am going to recap some of my favourite articles from over the years that garnered attention within the Canadian fire service.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
I recently conducted a structural burn session class for a local fire department, where members had access to a school building for live-fire training. The training day allowed firefighters to refine their skills under realistic conditions.
Written by Tamar Atik
Oct. 11, 2017 – One single ounce of oxygen. That’s all it would have taken for an explosion to have occurred at Pacific BioEnergy’s Prince George, B.C. facility in August 2017. 

It was Thursday, Aug. 24 when chairman and chief executive officer Don Steele found out that one of the wood pellet fuel company’s silos began smoldering overnight.

Steele was hosting a group of seven guests who had flown from Nagoya, Japan for a tour of the facility. 

“I advised them," he explained. "I said we could go up and have a look. We might even go on the property and they wouldn’t see much. But, at that point in time we were evacuating,” Steele said.

Although reported as a fire in mainstream media, the incident was a smoldering situation. 

Wood pellet consultancy company FutureMetrics’ John Swaan founded Pacific BioEnergy Corporation in 1994. His direction on-site is one of the main reasons why an explosion didn’t take place.

What was the winning solution? Nitrogen injection. 

In an industry where the potential for explosions is all too common, this was the first time that a North American pellet operation successfully put out a smouldering issue. 

“We have a number of incidents that have happened in our industry, mostly in Europe, that have not gone successfully,” Swaan said.

“There were some references that I shared with Don and his key people on-site,” Swaan recalled from the day. “And then his VP of operations gathered his key people around and took a look at what the options might be and looked at the references,” he explained. “I shared the report about how best to handle these [situations], that was done in a research centre in Sweden.” 

“So we did some calculations, and based on those calculations, a decision was made with Don and his people to say ‘OK, let’s bring in the nitrogen.’”

“A simple reaction would be to try and open [the silo] up to put out the fire, which would have been catastrophic,” Steele said. “Any oxygen entering would have been disastrous. It was a tremendously risky proposition.”

The silo holds 3,500 tonnes of pellets. Steele said that’s the energy equivalent of about 10,000 barrels of oil. The incident had the potential to have the entire surrounding city evacuated.

The nitrogen injection equipment was brought to the facility from neighbouring Alberta within eight to 10 hours. Alberta’s oil fields have prompted the province’s first responders to be prepared for fire suppression missions to prevent explosions. 

The smouldering material in the silo was injected with nitrogen for a few days until it was safe enough to remove in small amounts. The nitrogen arrives as a liquid and needs to be turned into a vapour.

“I think the first principle of it is, liquid nitrogen is an inert gas,” Steele said. “In other words, it can’t explode or burn. So you use it to push the oxygen out of the container and then try and seal it off. We tried with foam and various things, but once you’ve got the oxygen content below a certain level, [about] 10 per cent, you’ve minimized the risk of an explosion. So then you can start pulling the material out.”

“We basically wetted it down, and over a course of seven days eliminated the risk, moved the material out, quenched the fire risk and then stockpiled it over in another part of our property,” Steele said.

“I think the key thing is nobody overreacted… I don’t even think there was a Band-Aid.”

Swaan and Steele said the cooperation between industry and first responders was what ensured a safe outcome.

“This kind of incident has the potential of major, major injury. Our people knew how to safely handle the material and the first responders and fire department knew how to look after our people to keep them out of harm’s way,” Steele said. “They had the respiration equipment, they had the fire hoses, they had the ability and the technique for putting out a fire. Our people knew how to move the material through and safely evacuate the silo.”

Half a million dollars-worth of material and product was destroyed and a lot of equipment was damaged, but Steele says everybody’s safety makes the situation a success. 

“It’s a happy beginning actually, because we’re beginning now to refit and add to our knowledge of our product and how to handle it,” he said. “And I think the whole industry is going to learn something from it too.” 

“I say anything that can be fixed with money is not a problem. You can’t fix people with money, particularly if they’re severely injured or killed.” 

“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ [a silo fire could happen] it’s ‘when,’” Swaan said. “But the good news is that we now as an industry have a lot of new learnings. We have experience that we can now share with the industry so that we can make it a safer industry for these types of situations.”

Steele said, “The key thing is, think before you act, use other information, use your judgement, move deliberately, keep everybody safe.”

This story was originally published in Canadian Biomass.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
Many fire-ground tasks can be accomplished by one firefighter during an emergency and in non-emergency situations. One single-firefighter task that is beneficial for small teams to understand is bundling of the standpipe or highrise kit.  
Written by Ed Brouwer
Training in the fire services is not for the faint of heart. The time, energy and plain old hard work can be overwhelming at times. However, every now and then, a young firefighter looks at you and says, “I get it.”  
Written by Mark van der Feyst
Learning the basics isn’t always by the book. It takes practice to get things right and a page is no match for practical application.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
I recently taught a recruit class about foam. Given the few opportunities that today’s firefighters have to do actual fire fighting, it is always good idea to revisit the topic.
Written by Len Garis and Karin Mark
When assistant deputy fire chief Ray Bryant heard about construction of the tallest wood building in the world in Vancouver, his reaction was predictable.
Written by Ed Brouwer
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Horticultural Technologies fire in Kitchener, Ont. (March 1987). It is in memory of the emergency responders who lost their health and later their lives in this horrific industrial fire incident I present this month’s column. First, a word of thanks to a young Kitchener firefighter, Timothy Ritchie, who reminded me of the anniversary.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
We have come to the fifth part of our series on standpipes. So far, we have looked at using standpipes within buildings, either wet or dry standpipes. But what happens when the provided standpipe will not or does not work when we need it?
Written by Don Jolley
My November column outlined the key decisions and components in the development of the BC Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook, particularly the decision to focus on competencies rather than certification. Now let’s focus on the standard itself and what makes it work.
Written by Jason Benn
August 2016 - On Jan. 4, at approximately 11 p.m., Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to a barn fire at Classy Lane Stables boarding and training centre located on Concession 1 in Puslinch, Ont.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
We have been exploring the topic of standpipe-equipped buildings and highrise operations. In November, we looked at the equipment needed to conduct standpipe operations, and I mentioned that firefighters can carry only so much, which leads to the next topic: how many firefighters are needed for this type of operation?
Written by Mark van der Feyst
In my August and September columns we looked at options for securing the standpipe – on the fire floor or the floor below the fire.
Written by Ed Brouwer
At the 2016 British Columbia annual volunteer firefighter training seminar, hosted this year by Osoyoos Fire Department, I witnessed far too many firefighters struggle with their SCBA packs while trying to manoeuvre through tight and narrow openings. Some firefighters spent valuable airtime going low profile, while others took their BA packs right off. Both these methods of manoeuvring through wall breaches or narrow openings have been taught to firefighters for decades and for the most part they are safe and will work. However, there is a third method that our SOO HOT (Saving Our Own Hands-On Training) crew uses that is just too good to not share – we call it the cross-under technique.
Written by Mark van der Feyst
There are debates among fire service personnel about where firefighters should secure the standpipe in high-rise buildings. Some firefighters propose that the standpipe be secured on the fire floor while others advocate that crews hit the standpipe on the floor below the fire floor. There are considerations for both options that fire services need to understand before choosing one or the other.
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