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Tragic Day Heroes

The day started slowly with breakfast with the kids and a final order to clean their rooms or else. I had a full but easy day of meetings, talks, a retirement party for a long-term city staff person (a fine gentleman and good person), ending the night by the second of three try-outs for the Major Bantam A team for Connor at the New Gretzky Centre.

After meeting a group of young campers at Friendship House and enjoying the video that they wrote, directed and edited, I met with a constituent to hear a concern over roadwork, then took the 50 minutes or so before my next meeting to scout out some of the record setting amount of roadwork happening around Brantford.

As I was heading into City Hall for a meeting on downtown development, my phone rang in the car (I have bluetooth in my car which allows me the opportunity to drive and use the phone hands free), "Hello."

"Mr Mayor, this is Fire Chief Jeff McCormick" (I know the Chief well, so the formality of his greeting immediately told me something was wrong), "I am on scene at an house explosion on Ruffian in the Lynden Hills area of the city. I think you should be here. It appears ... "

"I'm on my way," I said.

I drove up Lynden Road looking for smoke in the area, but saw nothing, so I knew the fire was under control. Not knowing which end of Ruffian to drive to, I turned left and ended up at the bend down the road from the scene. I have safety gear in the back of my vehicle so I put on safety boots and hard hat and made my way to scene. At the barricades I was stopped by a police constable, "I recognize who you are sir, but I have to stop everyone before they enter the scene." I never get frustrated by people doing their jobs efficiently.

Two perimeter lines had been established at either end of the street, the corner of Ruffian and Lynden Hill was only two houses from the scene, and that is where I found the Fire Chief, Jeff McCormick, Greg Dworak, the head of engineering, Dan Temprile the acting CAO and head of Social Services, and Sgt Brad Cotton who was managing the site for the police. After a briefing from the Platoon Chief (Deputy Chief as of roughly two hours before the explosion) Grant Dix, on what had happened in the 30 minutes since the explosion, we immediately set to action.

The scene was a fire scene and the fire deparment would make all the calls regarding the area, including calling in the Ontario Fire Marshals office to conduct the investigation. The police continued with crowd and perimeter control and support on scene for the fire department. The utilities had all been contacted and gas lines had already been pinched closed, hydro and water to the affected area was being turned off. Victim Services was on scene and would coordinate with neighbours until the Red Cross arrived from Kitchener.

It was determined early that this was not technically an emergency scene, but that we would still implement elements of the Emergency Preparedness plan, so two City buses were pulled up on Ruffian to provide locations for registration of the neighbours, and the mobile Emergency Command Centre was brought on site.

Councillors Richard Carpenter and Dave Wrobel were on scene quickly and they took to coordinating and advocating for the neighbours. They identified right away that there were pets in some of the homes, and that some people needed to get prescription medicine and other high-priority items out of their homes. The neighbours had all been told through a statement by the Fire Chief and myself that they would not be returning to their homes for at least 48 hours, we would arrange through the Red Cross to put them up in hotels, and we would make arrangements to get them into their houses for short times to get immediate needs.

Because of the damage to the properties we were not sure if the properties were safe, so a call was placed to Cohoon Engineering, a local engineering firm, and the two top people came out, and, with the Union Gas representatives, made an initial inspection of each of the properties. When the houses were deemed safe to enter, a police officer or firefighter went in with the residents so that they could secure their necessary property.

Within three hours the property had been secured, the Fire Marshals were on scene and beginning the broad based viewing and investigation. We had been told that there were to occupants of the property and that one was still unaccounted for. The investigation is an exact science and the Fire Marshals were very specific in their needs and their approach to delving into the layers of the site to determine what exactly happened.

Within three hours of the explosion the resources of the City of Brantford had secured the property, identified and dealt with the needs of the neighbours, prepared the site for the investigation and provided updates to the media.

We wonder some times why we commit the time and tax dollars to prepare for emergencies, which, at the same time we are praying never to happen. But when we are forced to deal with a situation like the explosion on Ruffian, or farther from home, what we saw happen in Goderich and the resources needed to get the community into a position of just functioning, we are always relieved that we did the right thing and made sure we were prepared.

How prepared are you and your family to deal with an emergency. Let's face facts, the climate is changing and this is creating more frequent and more devastating weather events, this could force you into a position to survive for two or three days without power, water or communication. Do you know where your flashlights are, do they have batteries? Do you know how to get the latest information without electricity? Here are a couple simple sites that can help you understand what you need to know to keep your loved ones safe in time of an emergency.

Your friends and neighbours are everyday heroes, they work quietly within our community, but when the time comes for them to act in your best interests, people from all walks of life and in a variety of occupations, come together to make a difference. Everyday heroes, ready for you.