Airport firefighters speak out


I am writing this letter to set the record straight.

We here at the Iqaluit Airport Emergency Response Services feel that the truth is being lost somewhere between the information that is being published in your newspaper and CBC Radio.

I do not know where our MLA, Ed Picco, is getting his information, other than an Ouija-board or the Minister of Finance, John Todd.

We are fed up with all the rumors. No one has come to talk to us about what is going on and we are the ones who actually do the work around here.

Now, about what was in the report from Avery Cooper about the removal of emergency services at the Iqaluit airport.

The Iqaluit airport is a Class “A” Arctic airport, the same as the Yellowknife airport.

On page 3 paragraph 2, the report reads; “The ERS regulations have now been finalized and will be brought into force early in the new year. These regulations do not require ERS services at the Iqaluit Airport.”

As of today we have not heard anything of those regulations even being passed before the federal governments’ deadline of March 31, 1997.

Another section of the report discusses the role of the Iqaluit airport, but it neglected one thing ­ the overhead flights.

It did mention that the airport was an emergency landing site by aircraft flying the polar route.

However, no one really knows the number of overhead flights and types of aircraft. The aircraft can range from the smallest being a Boeing 767 with a possible passenger load of 211 to 290 passengers.

With this type of air traffic overhead we at the Iqaluit Airport Fire Department do not fear anything that is regularly scheduled, like a Boeing 727.

Where’s the money going?

Included in the report was a budget for the Emergency Response Services for the Iqaluit Airport in 1995-96. Salaries were totaled at $408,000 dollars.

I would like to know where they got this figure, since every firefighter here at the Iqaluit airport receives $20 dollars per hour and there were only four firefighters.

If the government of the Northwest Territories was not so stupid and hired the firefighters on as GNWT employees it would save money.

Instead it likes to give it away to contractors. The total cost of salaries of firefighters’ at the Iqaluit Airport is $200,000 dollars per year, not $408,000 dollars as in the report.

If there is any overtime incurred, the GNWT recovers this through fees ­ they do not include this in the report.

The vehicles that we use in airport fire fighting are expensive and costly to replace as mentioned in the report.

Where’s the $1.2 million for new trucks?

However, not included in the report was that Transport Canada gave the GNWT $1.2 million dollars to replace these vehicles because Transport Canada knew at the time of the transfer that the vehicles needed replacement.

We figure that the new crash trucks are now parked at the new hospital in Iqaluit.

Well that’s enough about the report that we find to be a one-sided affair.

Now about the regulations that govern emergency response services in Canada. Transport Canada is the regulator in this area.

The Canadian Aviation Regulations Advisory Committee (CARAC) updates the regulations that govern Canadian airports.

The regulation that governs airport fire fighting is regulation 303. This is the one that they have amended to fit the government of Canada’s and the airline industry of Canada’s agenda.

What makes no sense to us is how can you have a wolf sitting at the dinner table with a group of sheep.

The regulation states that if you do not have a total of 150,000 passengers per year, the operator of that airport is not required to provide emergency response services.

As everyone in Iqaluit knows, we will probably never reach that plateau. We find this to be unfair, in that down south, you have more than one mode of transportation, but here in Iqaluit there is only one way out, and that is by aircraft.

They did not consider this in 303. They have argued that aircrafts are flying into airports with no emergency response service and it is no big deal.

A time bomb

What we see is a time bomb and at anytime it is going to explode in their face.

The rumors that have been flying around the media are that the municipality of Iqaluit’s fire department is going to take over the duties of fire fighting at the Iqaluit airport.

We can tell you right now this is about as true as the NWT Minister of Finance having a balanced budget in the next year.

Town firefighters not capable

With no offense to the Town’s fire department, they are not able to deal with an aircraft disaster.

They do not have the training or the vehicles to fight an aircraft fire. An aircraft fire is totally different from a structural fire.

With so many dangers at an aircraft accident, if you make a mistake you do not get a second chance. Legally the Town does not have to provide coverage at an aircraft crash.

What the GNWT is not saying is the cost to the Town’s taxpayers if they did take it over and an aircraft went down and there are mistakes made and lives are lost.

The Town is responsible and could be sued. The second chapter in the Transport Canada certification program is about risk management. We think it is not in the Town’s best interest to take it over.

The saddest thing about this whole mess is that we received more concern from companies outside Canada than from companies inside Canada.

British airways concerned

British Airways expressed more concern than First Air about the possible cutting of the emergency services.

Last summer we at the Iqaluit airport fire department went looking for letters of recommendation, every airline company but First Air was willing to give us a letter.

First Air is the biggest airline in Iqaluit and did not seem to care if we were closed tomorrow. This response took us back.

It appears to me, that this company’s main goal is to make money only and they do not care for anything else.

In my view, they do not seem to care for their passenger’s safety if they do not care about emergency response services.

There are only two people in Iqaluit who have fought for us so far and they are Ed Picco, our MLA, and John Graham, our airport manager.

CBC Radio interviewed MLA Ed Picco a number of times but the thing they have focused on is the CF-18 crash last summer. It is a dead issue.

I think the people of Iqaluit have heard it enough. So we propose this question to all the people and the GNWT. Just think what would happen if a jet aircraft with 70 passengers on board was to crash at the Iqaluit airport and there was no ERS and no airport fire trucks?

We at the airport fire department know what will happen.

We do not want to be seen as fearmongers. As airport firefighters we know what can happen.

Will someone die?

There is an old saying in the fire service and that is “No changes are made until somebody dies.”

The government is willing to put people in harms’ way to save a couple of bucks for now.

But are they so gullible to think that if an accident occurs and ERS could have made a difference that they will not be sued to the wall.

God help us if they do. In closing we put this question out to the people who think we are not needed.

How come people pay for car and home insurance? Most times they never use them. Why don’t people get rid of it. People will not give up insurance, because of one reason. They do not want to think what could happen to them without insurance.

So what if there is no crashes at Iqaluit airport within the next five of 50 years? Having ERS is like having insurance.

Think what could happen if it is not there.

Joe O’Toole
On behalf of the Iqaluit Airport Emergency Response Services

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