The proposed Environmental Resource Recovery Centre (ERRC) facility that the County of Simcoe is considering constructing in the County forest at 2976 Horseshoe Valley Rd. W. in Springwater raises many concerns. One major concern involves the potential of fire breaking out in the material management facility and/or the organics processing facility and spreading into the surrounding forest.
A US report states that, for the 12 months ended June 2017, there were 268 reported fires at recycling facilities in North America, with many more suspected of being unreported. Recent examples in Ontario include: On May 25, 2017, there was a six-alarm fire at the Cherry Street recycling plant in Toronto, with damages estimated at $20 million. More than 500 firefighters fought the fire for over three days. The Courtice Waste Management Transfer Facility (Baseline Rd. just north of Hwy 401) fire on August 29, 2017 burned for more than 20 hours. A challenge for firefighters was the lack of hydrants. Tanker trucks shuttled water from a distant facility and returned to the site to fill large holding tanks. The Earl Turcott Waste Management Facility in Markham had a massive fire on September 20, 2017. The Guelph recycling facility had a five-alarm fire on July 5, 2016. The industry is vulnerable to fires simply because of the nature of the materials handled. I asked our Fire Chief to advise me on his concerns and recommendations and he reached out to obtain information from the Fire Chiefs and staff from 3 of the larger fire departments who had recent fires at similar facilities in their municipalities. It is evident that there are trends and lessons learned that must be considered when planning facilities such as these. Some of these are as follows:
1. Firstly, none of these facilities are contained within a forest. Rather, they are located primarily in industrial areas with a water main and a good hydrant system and good transportation routes around them. Fires will happen at some point. It seems illogical to have the facility in the middle of a forest, an area which promotes fire spreading.
2. When recycling became more widespread around 20 years ago, the Ministry of Environment imposed relaxed tonnage requirements for facilities such as these and this situation continues to the present. There is often far more fire load allowed than fire prevention officers are comfortable with, resulting in an overwhelming situation.
3. The facility and other buildings in the immediate vicinity should be non-combustible and must be built in accordance with the Ontario Building Code and the specific requirements of the Authority Having Jurisdiction, which in this case is the Township of Springwater.
4. If the building is constructed on the proposed Horseshoe Valley Rd W site, a sufficiently wide clear space should be maintained between the buildings, outdoor piles of material and the forested lands. Good access to all areas should be maintained. Fires in these facilities produce intense heat and smoke and they need to be dealt with by removing the burning/smoldering materials out of the building to the outside, breaking them down and ensuring that the fire in the material is fully extinguished. This requires concrete surface areas outside the building at least as large as the building internal area plus special separation to segregate burning material. Heavy equipment and operators are needed onsite to remove burning or smouldering material when necessary.
5. The slash on the ground in the surrounding forest should ideally be removed and kept clear to reduce the speed of the spread of any potential fire in the forest floor.
6. It is the view of many that the surrounding road system needs to be improved to ensure access and safe escape routes in the event of fire, including Rainbow Valley Rd. E., Baseline Rd. to Flos Rd. 4 E. and Matheson Rd. The risk of fire in a forest may arise from a structure or other fire at any of the surrounding residences, or from broken glass or a carelessly discarded smoking material. The building of the ERRC increases the potential of fire breaking out. Homeowners and business need to be educated to maintain defensible space between their residence or business and the forest by reducing long ground cover, limbing trees and removing or moving man made “fuel” piles/storage and accessory buildings.
7. Facility operators cannot control contamination – they can’t prevent someone from improperly disposing of other items with the recycling material. Incompatible waste mixing can cause spontaneous combustion – for example, it is possible that lithium batteries improperly mixed with other materials can start fires. Fires can also start from self-heating in waste. Large stockpiles of waste materials contribute to the intensity of the blaze once it starts.
8. Sprinklers are not typically required in the recycling plant by code, but they should be required in this proposed facility. These should be integrated into a fire alarm system, triggering an alarm at a remote monitoring facility as soon as the sprinklers were activated.
9. Water supply for a prolonged fire suppression effort needs to be sufficient, preferably from an industrial water main and hydrant system. This system is not available at the proposed Horseshoe Valley Rd W. site, as it is not an industrial park which is where many similar facilities are usually constructed. In the absence of an industrial sized water distribution system, water for a sprinkler system and for fire suppression should come from an on-site water storage facility (100,000 gallons or more) which needs to be sufficient to sustain a prolonged operation of both ground level and aerial master stream fire attack plus an ongoing sprinkler activation. This would need to be in the form of a water tank, or cistern or pond which would not freeze. It should be noted that much of the water used to fight the May Toronto fire was supplied by a fireboat just offshore from Lake Ontario.
10. With the location of the Springwater fire stations to the proposed site, it is estimated that it could take 15 to 30 minutes from the time of the alarm to get firefighters and equipment on site and working. It is estimated that from the Springwater volunteer firefighter contingent, there might be up to 25 firefighters who could respond to a fire in this location. Paper and fibre and plastics burn hard and fast. The intensity of a fire increases, as a rule of thumb, on average 100% every minute.
11. One or more aerial fire apparatus, equipped with an aerial master stream, is essential to operations in a defensive attack at a major fire, to gain situational awareness and/or to gain roof access for ventilation or rescue. This resource must arrive on site quickly upon a fire event and cannot be delayed by travelling long distances. Water supply needs to keep up with both aerial master stream operations and hand lines, requiring a fire flow well in excess of 1,750 Imperial gallons a minute. The Township does not at present have an aerial fire apparatus. The cost of each of these is currently $1,250,000 in today’s dollars and may reach $1,750,000 at the time of proposed building of the ERRC.
12. The Township of Springwater’s tanker shuttle rating could not currently provide sufficient water supply for a major fire in this type of facility.
13. A Mandatory Fire Prevention Plan will need to be instituted and monitored, including:
• Limits on storage of materials outside and stockpile limits;
• Springwater Fire Department (SWFD) being engaged in pre-planning of the facility design and construction and with facility familiarization on a regular basis with the operator. They should proactively educate facility staff and management on how to reduce the risk of fire and how to extinguish fires in their incipient stage and how to react to a fire situation;
• Fire inspections not less than an twice yearly by the SWFD;
• Notification to SWFD of ALL fires that occur at the facility.
Given all of these factors and risks, it does not make sense to locate these facilities in a forest. We are potentially exposing Springwater and Simcoe to significant risk to life and property. We need to re-evaluate a better location for this project, as we are accountable for doing this right.
These are my thoughts and interpretations of these topics and not necessarily those of Council or the Fire Chief.