More than 120 participants from all over the province descended on Ponoka last week for a two-day specialized training course aimed mainly at first responders to emergency situations, particularly those involving leaks or spills of hazardous materials in the event of an accident.
Ponoka Regional Fire Chief Dennis Jones and Director of Emergency Management said he had put in the request for this training session about two years ago when he was the training officer for the Ponoka Fire Department. He said he was pleased to see participants join the training workshops from several neighbouring municipalities, including the cities of Edmonton and Calgary. Town of Ponoka Public Works staff also took part in the training.
The training program involved both a theoretical and a hands-on component, whereby participants attended workshops to receive information about the topics to be covered and the key elements of the emergency response effort with the hands-on session following as participants were divided into groups of six or seven and were instructed how to use the actual equipment in four separate stations on a rotating basis.
Randy Mak of Dow Chemical Canada, a member of the TRANSCAER emergency response grouping, said the idea for this kind of training had emerged after the November 1979 derailment in Mississauga, ON of a train carrying explosive load which led to evacuation of more than 200,000 people.
Mak, who coordinated the Ponoka training session, added that the first TRANSCAER training was then conducted in Canada in 1980 and one year later a similar program was also introduced in the US.
TRANSCAER functions under the umbrella of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, with every member of the association contributing staff and equipment for the training sessions. As both of Canada’a main railway networks, CP and CN, are partner organizations collaborating with TRANSCAER, they have also been contributing both equipment and manpower to these training programs.
Mak said due to the logistical issues involved in the moving of equipment used in the training, in particular the specialized rail car created for the training purpose, they could conduct these sessions for only about eight months of the year, during which they can program up to 20 training sessions throughout the country.
The training program, while heavily designed for responders to railway incidents, also included components for interventions highway accidents involving hazardous leaks and spills.