The Simpcw First Nation is giving emergency response services in its traditional territory a major boost through an agreement with the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

The Simpcw, who signed a Mutual Benefits Agreement (MBA) with Kinder Morgan Canada in May 2016, recently completed construction of a new firehall and emergency response centre in its home community of Chu Chua, located near Barriere, in the North Thompson region.

On June 28, the First Nation celebrated completion of the new building — as well as new offices for Simpcw Resource Group — with an open house. Attendees included some members of the emergency management team for Kinder Morgan Canada, who have worked with the Simpcw on several initiatives involving emergency preparedness and response.

The new firehall includes space for emergency response personnel, equipment and training to tackle a wide range of situations — such as an oil spill, an earthquake, a flood or a fire. Through the MBA with the Simpcw, Trans Mountain is committed to providing financial support for these enhancements.

All 15 members of the Simpcw volunteer Fire Department have undergone basic firefighting training through the Justice Institute of BC and can be deployed for other emergency operations. Another 12 people, including Simpcw First Nation members, staff and community members have been trained in the BC Incident Command System, which is the foundation for emergency management.

“There’s capacity for a wide range of equipment and emergency response, based on some funding from the MBA,” explained Simpcw Council Member Ron Lampreau. “We’re planning to add a jet boat, a trailer full of booms and stuff for spill response and solar panels to the new emergency response centre. We’ve incorporated training in spill response.”

The Simpcw also want to provide additional spill response training to workers employed by Simpcw Resources LLP, the main economic development company owned by the First Nation.

Simpcw Resources provides pipeline maintenance services to Trans Mountain throughout the First Nation’s vast traditional territory in the BC Central Interior. Those services range from brush clearing and right-of-way maintenance to pipeline integrity services.

“There will be training not only for the fire department but for the existing maintenance workers so we can work in partnership if we’re needed to go out on a call for Trans Mountain — or a railway or highway spill,” said Councillor Tina Donald, Simpcw Fish and Wildlife Manager. “Those three (transportation systems) run parallel to each other through our territory.”

New facilities, equipment and training mean a faster response in the event of an incident, Donald noted.

“Our crews that are currently out on maintenance contracts would be trained in emergency response,” Donald explained. “There should be a very short time delay getting out, say if another truck had flipped over or if there was a spill into the water. We can start containing it right away as opposed to a response time of one to three hours.”

Donald said all Simpcw responders would practice a wide variety of drills — including ones that involve mobilizing from the new emergency services centre in Chu Chua.

“Ron and I have talked about an emergency response drill where you train for a hypothetical situation — such as getting a call about a possible leak at a certain point on the pipeline. You have to travel there and you have to bring all of your response equipment to the site. In that kind of drill you also have to work out the logistical problems of getting to the site.

“Our maintenance workers are intimately familiar with where the pipeline runs. In an emergency they will be pulling up the response plans we worked on with Trans Mountain and their consultants and getting ready to act on them.”

Added Councillor Lampreau: “We really want to be in control of protecting the environment ourselves. We think the development of a well-equipped emergency centre is a good step in the right direction.”

Jamie Kereliuk, Director of Emergency Management for Kinder Morgan Canada, said benefits from the Simpcw First Nation initiative extend beyond the community.

“We’ve been working closely with them for several months as part of implementation of their Mutual Benefits Agreement. The agreement supports the upgrade of their firehall and emergency response facility,” Kereliuk said.

 “By developing long lasting and strong relationships we each have a better understanding of what the other can contribute, in an unlikely event of an emergency.

“The equipment they plan to purchase will not only be available for their own community, but can be used to support surrounding communities as well.”

Jamie Kereliuk comments on the importance of the upgrades at a recent emergency exercise in Burnaby.