When it comes to who will pay the cost of sending the North Bay Fire Department’s hazmat team to Britt last week to clean up a dangerous spill, the local fire chief says it’s the provincial government.

Jason Whiteley says North Bay is one of nine communities that maintains a provincial Hazardous Materials team on site to respond to emergencies in areas that don’t have their own team or where local resources are overwhelmed.

The corrosive spill that took place at the Key River Bridge when two transport trailers collided saw North Bay respond despite the two-hour drive because Sudbury, which is much closer to Britt, doesn’t have a hazmat team.

Whiteley says the province paid for the hazmat equipment and trained the firefighters at its expense.

So when it sends out a request for help, as it did in the Britt incident last week, the North Bay squad responds.

A closer look of the crash site at the Key River Bridge

Whiteley says where he does have an issue with costs is when the hazmat team is away for training.

In this instance, he has to bring in replacement personnel to ensure the city is not short of firefighters while some members are away.

Whiteley says while the provincial government pays for the offsite hazmat training, it doesn’t cover the cost of the personnel Whiteley has to call in.

He says North Bay taxpayers pick up this cost.

Whiteley adds although this cost is very small he’s working on getting it down to zero meaning the province would pay at some future time.

Whiteley says although he doesn’t like that local taxpayers have to pay for the additional personnel, he points out North Bay has a specialty squad only a handful of communities across Ontario have at their disposal on a daily basis.

He says it was the North Bay hazmat team that responded to the recent chlorine leak at the sewage treatment plant.

“If there was no hazmat team, we’d have to wait for a provincial team or (pay) a private contractor to cap the leak,” he said.

“So there are benefits to having the team here and Whiteley sees it as a win-win for all.

Whiteley points out North Bay is a logical place to situate a hazmat team because it has two major highways that cross the city plus two rail lines, an airport and several industries.

He says it’s not a question of if a major hazmat incident will occur in North Bay but when.

Moose News asked Whiteley what would happen in the event the hazmat team is several hours away and North Bay also experienced a hazardous materials incident.

He said although capabilities are limited, all the staff are trained to deal with hazardous incidents “at the highest level”.

Whiteley also says the department has the ability to recall the out-of-town team or it can ask for another hazmat team from elsewhere in the province to respond.

The hazmat team from the North Bay Fire Department cleaning up the chemical spill at the Key River Bridge south of Sudbury on Highway 69

Of the nine provincial hazmat teams, three are in stationed in Northern Ontario.

They are Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay.

Whiteley points out those three teams cover two-thirds of the province.

The remaining hazmat squads are in Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Cornwall, Peterborough and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Asked why Sudbury, which is home to several mines and sees plenty of hazardous materials transported daily, doesn’t have a provincial hazmat team, Whiteley said it was a decision of city council.

He says although the Sudbury fire department administration has argued for such a team, Whiteley says city council decided against it.

Whiteley adds the nine provincial teams are mandated to respond outside their city limits.

He says other cities have hazmat teams that are not part of the provincial network.

These include Barrie, Mississauga, Burlington, Vaughn, London, Sarnia, Brampton and St. Catharines but not Sudbury.

Whiteley says in the event of a hazmat event, Sudbury could ask for help from one of the provincial teams in North Bay or the Sault or it could also look to its industrial partners for help which it would pay for afterward.