There seems to be some confusion between PortsToronto’s understanding of emergency preparedness and emergency access. The organization’s website explains at length the steps it has taken to make sure its first responders are trained and equipped to handle emergency situations on or near the airport. The website also cites co-ordination with the city’s emergency services as part of emergency preparations.
Let it be clearly stated that CommunityAIR takes no issue with the training, dedication and professionalism of the men and women of all branches of the emergency services. Their willingness to risk personal safety in life-threatening situations speaks volumes about their values and humanity and is an example for us all.
What we question is the planning and the contingencies for emergency access to emergency crash or incident sites that puts emergency responders in harm’s way in order that they may carry out their duties.
The Intergovernmental Staff Committee Study of Alternative Access Options to the Island Airport for Emergency Response Services
The Intergovernmental Staff Committee (Committee)that produced the access study comprised 19 members from 13 organizations. They included:
- Transport Canada;
- Province of Ontario;
- Metropolitan Toronto Emergency Services: police, fire and ambulance services;
- City of Toronto;
- Metropolitan Toronto;
- PortsToronto’s predecessors the Toronto Harbour Commission.
The Committee sprung from emergency services concern at the time that the ferries could not provide the necessary emergency vehicles, equipment and personnel to and from a crash or serious incident at the airport.
The Committee based its recommendations on the following conditions.
- Annual passengers – between 215,000 and 400,000
- Scheduled air service planes – Dash 8
- Capacity – 50 passengers plus crew
- Frequency – 55 flights daily
It looked at a worst-case scenario of a crash of a fully loaded Dash 8 with 50 passengers and .a crew of four. The embedded Island Airport Fire Crew’s primary job would be suppress any fire with foam and provide a safe egress for passengers and crew from the crash scene.
Secondary response teams would take over from there.
In the words of the 1993 Study, “The emergency services in the Metro area, including fire-fighting, ambulance and police, provide crucial back-up assistance since the Island Airport Emergency Response Services are incapable of dealing dealing with the rescue of many of the traumatized victims. Therefore, response by community emergency services is critical to the handling of an accident at the Island Airport. This is true of any airport across Canada.”
The Committee calculated this worst-case scenario would require the following response.
- 13 fire-fighting vehicles with 42 personnel;
- 30 ambulance vehicles with 51 personnel;
- 19 police vehicles with 104 personnel;
- 2 other vehicles with 4 personnel
The Committee looked several options to deliver the 64 vehicles and 201 personnel required to effectively deal with the crash on land on the island. It recommended a bridge for the job.
Present Day Emergency Access Considerations
PortsToronto has greatly increased the operations over the two decades or so since the Committee’s report and stand roughly as follows.
- Annual passengers – 2 million plus;
- Scheduled air service planes – Q400;
- Capacity – 74 passengers plus crew;
- Frequency – 202 flights daily
There can be no comparison of the number of emergency vehicles and personnel required to provide the levels of service that the Committee felt was necessary in a worst-case scenario because there is no evidence of any body, including the airport owners PortsToronto, updating or producing a new report for emergency response access.
Future Emergency Access Considerations
If city council approves the PortsToronto runway expansion plan, projected operations, according to PortsToronto consultants RWDI will look something like this.
- Annual passengers – 3 million plus;
- Scheduled air service planes – Q400 and CS100;
- Capacity – Q400 70 to 74 passengers plus crew – CS100 107 passengers plus crew;
- Frequency – 202 flights daily Q400 @ 75%; CS100 @ 25%
PortsToronto has made no commitment to include an emergency response access plan in its environmental assessment that is considering airport expansion.
As mentioned above, the Committee studied a crash scenario on the airport itself and called for a bridge. Today, it is not clear if even a bridge would deliver the required emergency response as it is not clear what the level and size of the response is required to effectively deal with a worst-case scenario crash. Indeed, PortsToronto hasn’t seemed to have even defined a worst-case scenario crash.
On Airport Lands Year Round
When CommunityAIR Charman Brian Iler enquired of Geoffrey Wilson, PortsToronto presdent and CEO, by email, of a February 15th frozen vehicle ramp that rendered the airport inaccessible for an undisclosed time, it was not the first time that an inoperable ramp was cited as an access problem.
The Committee’s report noted, “Mechanical and electrical failures to the ferry or ramp mechanisms can occur. There were ten instances last year (1992) from June to October when the Ferry was unable to carry vehicles.” The Committee also noted that ferries were unable to use the ramp during high winds and low water levels.
BBTCA and PortsToronto VP Gene Cabral responded for Mr. Wison, reassuring Mr. Iler. Mr. Cabral wrote, “The ferry ramp is working fine. We had a minor issue with hydraulics that was remedied quickly and there was minimal impact to service.”
In his letter to BBTCA travellers, Gene Cabral took care to feature the ferries that would provide year-round emergency response access, including the difficult winter months. If this is the case, it behooves an organization that has rebranded itself to signify openness and transparency to report the number of occasions the ramps or ferries have been rendered inoperable or unable to transport vehicles over the last 12 months and to describe what alternative emergency access measures PortsToronto instituted in those instances.
If is unable to provide the information perhaps it could provide a better explanation than ‘for security reasons.’
Off Airport Lands under Winter Conditions
As the recent Delta Airways plane that slid off the runway at La Guardia shows, slippery, icy winter conditions present a safety hazard.
Indeed, an incident at BBTCA in which a parked Q400 was blown off its chocks under similar conditions indicates the airport is susceptible to winter vagaries.
Unless PortsToronto accounted for operating conditions under all weather circumstances and has prohibited human error at the airport, it is conceivable that a worst-case scenario could see a present day Q400 or future CS100 end up in the bay on the east of the expanded runway or west in the lake.
What’s the emergency response access plan when, as this winter and last, 30 cm thick ice freezes the bay and Western Gap?
Even though a crash in the harbour is closer to first and secondary responders, we don’t know if there is an emergency response plan that includes the time taken to arrive at the crash site when ice on the bay is 30 to 60 cm. This Star article indicates Toronto Fire’s William Lyon Mackenzie, designated a “Ice Class One” ship and not a true icebreaker, might not have an easy time of it.
The Marine Unit ice boat might be quicker riding on top of the ice as it does. But what is its capacity for delivering rescue workers and delivering crash victims to triage centre in a timely manner? According to one source, it takes about 10 minutes before muscles stop reacting to simple commands.
Time taken to reach a 70+ passenger plane crashing in Lake Ontario presents its own set of problems. The BBTCA first responders are trained to execute cold water, including ice rescues. No one disputes that.
What’s important to know is how many are available and how many crash victims can they bring to shore before the ten minutes are up. How long will it take for their secondary back-up personnel to arrive at their stations. And how long would it take the William Lyon Mackenzie and the marine unit ice boat to arrive to assist?
As this winter and the last have indicated, access to various locations in and around Toronto Harbour have proven difficult. Given the housing of ice breaking capable watercraft within the harbour, there is little reason to believe that access to points in Lake Ontario off the airport runway would be any less difficult.
PortsToronto’s airport expansion studies are based on the introduction of larger aircraft and a possible one-third increase in passenger activity. BBTCA’s flying public deserves to know that PortsToronto’s has an emergency access response plan in place that can facilitate effective rescue strategies under the most adverse conditions, summer and winter.
Why is it that PortsToronto places the onus of its access plans on the preparedness of its primary and secondary responders rather than showing the flying public that the airport’s safety is enhanced through the planning that co-ordinates the brave efforts of the women and men who risk their own safety to respond in emergency situations?
When US Airways Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River two years ago, it was the planning and quick thinking of the New York Fire Department (NYFD) that ensured no lives were lost. The article in the New York Times describes how the NYFD did it. There’s no keeping back, for security reasons, details of the planning.