Fire officials in Saint John, New Brunswick, suspended temporarily operations to contain sulphuric acid leaking from a railroad tank car Tuesday when simultaneous emergencies involving an injured hiker and a structure fire stretched resources to the breaking point, a statement posted by the local firefighters union reports.
The leak required a Level 1 hazardous materials response, the highest level of haz mat emergency, the CBC reports. Responders cordoned off a 150-meter area surrounding the CN rail yard, shutting down a highway onramp for nearly six hours.
At its height, the Level 1 hazardous materials response required four fire trucks. Level 1 is the highest level of haz mat emergency, the CBC reports.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 771 stated via Twitter that during a portion of the haz mat emergency no fire trucks were available to respond to other incoming calls. Firefighters were already splitting their attention between the rail yard and an emergency involving an injured hiker, the union states.
In support of the statement, an audio clip purporting to be official radio traffic was attached to the Twitter post. In it, a dispatcher tries to determine if any units were free to respond to a possible structure fire.
“What have you got available?” a voice asks the dispatcher. “I don’t have anybody,” the dispatcher replies. “That’s why I’m asking.”
“Command was forced to suspend dealing with the hazardous materials leak in order to respond to other incoming emergency calls like the one attached (please listen),” the statement posted to Twitter reads. “Fortunately, this fire turned out to be minor.”
The CBC report states that the acid leak originated with a faulty valve on top of the tank car. However, before the valve could be repaired, half of the crews on site were diverted to the competing emergency involving a hiker who broke a leg and had to be extracted using ropes and a basket. That operation occupied 13 firefighters for two and a half hours.
A Department of Environment spokesperson stated that an estimated eight liters of acid leaked from the tanker.