Canada - Fire at Montreal's Petro-Canada refinery; second refinery fire on East side in 6 mos. : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Friday 25 February 2000

Heroes avert refinery disaster potential disaster.... Firefighters get propane tanker away from blaze

EILEEN TRAVERS, The Gazette; CP contributed to this report

Firefighter Rene Lafortune's lightning reflexes might have prevented a small blaze at an east-end oil refinery from becoming a major disaster yesterday.

It took 26 fire trucks and 70 firefighters less than two hours to extinguish a blaze at the Petro-Canada refinery. But the fire might have been worse without Lafortune's actions.

Seconds after arriving on the scene, the fireman saw a tanker truck filled with propane parked 5 metres from the advancing flames.

"We quickly knew it wasn't the cause of the fire, but it was in great danger of being part of it," said Lafortune, 38.

"I was a little scared. But it's the adrenaline that keeps you going. That's part of my job."

Without hesitation, he and fellow firefighter Michel Langevin, 46, leaped into the truck. Lafortune drove it to a safe distance 250 metres away and then the two men joined their colleagues in battling the blaze.

While no one was injured and only minor damage was reported, the quick action by the two men prevented what could have been a massive explosion at the Sherbrooke St. E. refinery, said Andre Beausoleil, district chief of Montreal's fire department.

"If he didn't do that, Petro-Canada wouldn't be here today," Beausoleil said. "Propane is very volatile. If that truck went up in flames, it would have been a bigger disaster."

Shortly before 11:40 a.m. yesterday, the fire began near underground fuel pipelines running through the refinery's storage yard beside a service road north of Highway 40.

As the fire spread, a propane tanker-truck approached the service road. The driver saw flames in the rear-view mirror, stopped her truck and fled, the fire department said.

Moments later, fire trucks arrived. Lafortune and Langevin were on one from Station 8 in Pointe aux Trembles.

Had the truck exploded, "there could be a very big hole in the ground," said Andrew Pelletier, a Petro-Canada spokesman. "The good news is, nobody was hurt."

The tanker driver suffered shock, but quickly recovered, Pelletier said.

By 1:20 p.m., firefighters had extinguished the fire. Police and Petro-Canada officials are investigating the cause.

Highway 40 was closed in both directions between Henri Bourassa Blvd. and Anjou from noon to 3:30 p.m.

This was the second incident at an east-end refinery in the last six months. In September, clouds of black smoke poured out of the Shell Canada Ltd. refinery in Pointe aux Trembles, prompting complaints from nearby residents. The smoke resulted from an unexpected shutdown of the refinery's boiler system, which led to a drop in steam. Normally, the steam helps dissipate the refinery's smoke. A Montreal Urban Community environment-department inspector reported that the Shell incident had not endangered the public.

For three years, environmental advocates have asked east-end refineries to hold public meetings to discuss the potential risks of accidents.

Accidents happen, said Daniel Green of the Montreal environmental group Societe Pour Vaincre la Pollution, but the public must be informed of what precautions should be taken in the event of accidents.

"We rarely get a post-incident report," Green said. "We want to know what really happened."

Source: The Montreal Gazette, Canada

-- Lee Maloney (, March 16, 2000

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