Gratitude for fire rescue at Niobe elevator

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INNISFAIL – It was just over three years ago when five employees at the south Niobe grain elevator faced a harrowing and potentially dangerous situation.

On this summer day in July 2014, the elevator, a 33-year-old wooden facility owned by Canada Malting Co. Limited, was filling with smoke.

“A guard inside forced one of the belts to stop turning, and the dry pulley kept turning and shot embers of hot rubber all over the top of the elevator,” said Ryan Dodd, the company’s Canadian elevator operations manager. “And of course grain dust, heat and wood does not combine very well, so we were quite fearful we were going to have a fire up there.”

An employee went to the top of the elevator where he encountered even heavier smoke. He used a fire extinguisher to control the threatening situation around the belt, but when he came back down the Innisfail Fire Department was immediately called. All employees were safely evacuated.

When firefighters arrived, Capt. Jayme Hendrick, carrying a five-gallon bucket of water, took a hand-powered man lift to the top of the elevator. Most importantly, he also brought along a thermal imaging camera, which saved the grain elevator from ultimately bursting into flames.

“Jayme Hendrick was absolutely phenomenal, the time and effort he put in himself was just unbelievable. He took the thermal imaging camera up to the top of the elevator and he found all the little hot spots of the balls of rubber,” said Dodd.

“He thermal imaged all these little hot spots, doused them with the five-gallon bucket of water and thermal imaged them again to make sure he got rid of each and every little hot spot. He was up there for hours doing that.”

With lives saved, the grain elevator rescued from destruction and even the barley stock undamaged, Canada Malting Co. badly wanted to give back to firefighters to show their appreciation.

“They put in so much time and effort into this that when talking with the fire department and figuring out something we could do to show our appreciation they said, ‘we would really like to have two thermal imaging cameras for our other trucks so each of them is equipped with one,’ “ said Dodd.

He said his company recently “jumped” at the chance to supply the fire department with two additional thermal imaging cameras that cost a total of $26,400.

“What they did for us was to save our elevator,” said Dodd, adding there was no doubt in his mind the green elevator landmark along Highway 2A would have burnt to the ground without the hard work of Hendrick and the thermal imaging camera. “If one of those little balls would have sat there and smouldered all night long, it would have eventually created enough heat to combust and that wooden elevator would have just gone up in flames.”

In the meantime, Innisfail fire Chief Gary Leith said the donation has now equipped all three main fire trucks with thermal imaging cameras, equipment that will make a huge difference for the community.

“It will allow us to carry out a scene assessment and do thermal imaging to find out where heat is,” said Leith. “During investigations or post fire when we have extinguished the majority of the fire, we can then turn around and scan it to make sure we haven’t got any more of what we refer as hot spots likely to reignite.

“It will be safer for the community, added Leith. “It will allow us to investigate fire more efficiently and keep our firefighters safer as well by allowing us to do a more accurate hazard assessment at calls.”

Ryan Dodd, Canadian elevator operations manager for Canada Malting Co.

“What they did for us was to save our elevator. If one of those little balls would have sat there and smouldered all night long, it would have eventually created enough heat to combust and that wooden elevator would have just gone up in flames.”

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Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.