That’s what ATCO’s leaders and employees confronted in early May 2016. Their quick action and sustained response during the Fort McMurray wildfires helped prevent a catastrophic situation from becoming unthinkably worse.
In the Fort McMurray area, ATCO has natural gas transmission and distribution assets, electricity transmission and distribution, as well as workforce housing. ATCO’s pipeline laterals feed into four gate stations to serve the entire city with natural gas.
ATCO Pipelines, a business unit within ATCO, routinely maintains close and collaborative working relationships with producers and other pipeline companies in the area. Once it was clear the wildfires would overrun pipelines and endanger the city, those close relationships became even more critical.
ATCO Pipelines collaborated with Suncor Energy and TransCanada Pipelines to isolate the gas feed and prevent it from feeding the fire. Not long after, with eyes glued to measurement on SCADA screens in their control room, the emergency response and operations teams detected one of their four gate stations was destroyed.
Like many others who played a part in the response, there were countless stories of heroism from the ATCO team as they responded to the disaster. It was not unusual for team members who’d lost their own homes and possessions to show up to help with the response. The company ensured occupational health and mental health professionals were readily available to monitor the physical and mental health of those who worked through the fires.
The team is extremely proud of their safety record – zero lost-time injuries in more than 14 years. Despite severe time pressures and having to take some controlled risks, the team kept their safety record intact.
Leaders at ATCO emphasize that being a CEPA member was a huge advantage during the fires. Previous mutual aid exercises had allowed them to build strong relationships with their peers. Throughout the inferno and after, those training exercises, as well as the resulting camaraderie and collaboration, paid off.
After the fires
ATCO participated actively in the post-fire response efforts – offering shelter to emergency responders and evacuated residents, and providing meals and other necessities. In fact, ATCO donated almost 70,000 meals throughout May and June 2016.
The organization also worked around the clock to restore service to the area, so first responders had access to electricity and a natural gas supply as they undertook re-building efforts. And by September 2016, ATCO was able to replace the burnt out gate station.
In January 2017, for their efforts, ATCO was awarded an Emergency Recovery Award by the Edison Electric Institute for their employees’ response, commitment to safety and collaboration during this major disaster.