It’s a scenario they’ve practised many times, but hope never to use.
Thursday morning in conjunction with The Great British Columbia ShakeOut, staff at the Comox Valley Airport responded to a fuel spill from a chartered airplane — but it was all for practise.
“We started this exercise off with 19 Wing when they brought over a Buffalo aircraft to simulate a charter aircraft that would have a fuel spill,” explained airport CEO Fred Bigelow. “As the scenario unfolded, it started with our staff at the Comox Valley Airport, then broadened out, (we) brought in fire departments from both 19 Wing Comox and the Comox Fire Department.”
The situation is one which happens a few times a year at the airport, explained Bigelow, with a variety of scenarios from fires to securities breaches, taking place.
Some situations are mandated by Transport Canada, while others, “we do just because we know it’s what we need to make sure our people, our staff and everyone else we work with are confident to deal with whatever might come our way.”
Bigelow added a live exercise is extremely useful in getting airport staff used to following procedures, going through checklists and understanding challenges in communication that would come from an emergency.
“We feel pretty well prepared to respond to anything that might come our way.”
Last spring, the airport conducted an exercise based around a bomb threat, something which Bigelow said is created based on what staff might need along with the airport’s other partners. The scenario worked well with the explosive ordinance disposal unit across the area at 19 Wing.
“They had folks in here training, we tied it in with 19 Wing’s training requirements and it worked out well for both of us,” he added.
Bigelow noted there generally are no big surprises which come from practising the scenarios.
“The basics are always what comes up. Communication challenges with different organizations, with different radios, different terminology, we find those kinds of lessons learned every time, but there’s the odd things that come up now and again and go, hmm, maybe we need to make a change to our procedures, our checklists and they do find the odd little gems or nuggets each time we do an exercise, but for the most part, these exercises — just like dealing with emergencies or crisis in the real world — it’s communications above all else.”
As for the likelihood of a real-life spill taking place, Bigelow explained the odds are “very unlikely.”
“Fuel spills, especially fuel spills of any magnitude are very unlikely given that both the protocols are in place and there are technical safety measures and devices in place to stop it. That said, it can happen and we want to be prepared for that.”