(Canadian OH&S News) — An internal risk assessment in 2015 concluded that a fire at the Canadian Forces (CF) ammunition depot in Bedford, N.S. was “likely to occur” and could have “severe consequences.” But CF’s current Halifax base commander says that the risk has since been lowered.
Following the assessment, the military prepared a 32-page report that set the probability of a fire at “occasional”, meaning that one was likely, and deemed the potential severity of such a fire to be “catastrophic”. The report was dated June 2015, but became available to the public after CBC News published an online story about it on Feb. 9 of this year.
The CF report, which claimed that a fire at the facility “may cause death of personnel, severe loss of operational capacity, destruction of property or severe environmental damage,” identified inadequate maintenance of three systems — the vegetation control in the explosives area, the lightning-protection system and the water supply for fire protection — as the main factor in the risk.
But Navy Captain Chris Sutherland, the present commander for CF’s Halifax base, told COHSN that the base had taken action following the assessment and lowered the fire risk substantially.
“My predecessor requested the report, and I received it November 5th of 2015,” explained Capt. Sutherland. “I assess the fire risk to be low, based on all of the mitigating efforts we undertook, to include dealing with the vegetation.”
Capt. Sutherland, who is in charge of fire services and security for the base’s integral and lodger units, added that the base was currently updating its lightning rods. “They still work. They’re just not working up to code,” he said. “Next fiscal year, they will be replaced.”
As for the water supply, the Bedford depot has water sources from the municipalities of Bedford and Halifax available, as well as a reservoir. “Those three are more than sufficient to provide pressure to fight a fire in the Bedford magazine area,” said Capt. Sutherland.
“If we were to have multiple fires on multiple fronts, it would create more of a challenge. However, we have within ten kilometres of the ammunition depot three other fire departments, civilian ones, and we have an agreement with them.” So a potential large fire would bring ample response within six minutes, he added.
Capt. Sutherland also stressed that a contained explosion within one of the magazines would pose no risk to the community.
“Because of the infrastructure investment in the new magazines, which have their own fire-suppression system, with the way ammunition is built and constructed today, the risk to anyone in the area is nonexistent,” he said. “Even if a fire were to touch one of those magazines, they’re fireproof, and even if the ammunition were to go off, they’re designed and they’re spaced out in such a way as that the resulting explosions would be contained within the structure.”
Capt. Sutherland contrasted the base’s modern safety measures with the careless way explosives had been stored outdoors at the end of World War II. Returning soldiers, he said, “were so keen to get back to their loved ones, they basically just offloaded everything and kind of buggered off.
“Now everything is in proper, modern magazines with their own self-protection-monitoring systems and spaced in such a way that there can be no sympathetic damage to a subsequent magazine, were one to have an incident.”
The previous fire risk assessment of the depot took place in 2003. No assessment is scheduled for the moment, but one could be requested at any time, noted Capt. Sutherland.
“My recommendation to my turnover,” he said, “would be that once the lightning rods and the vegetation work and the work on the water supply are complete, that we conduct another fire assessment.”