The Fort Mac Fire: How ERS kept fuel supplies flowing during the crisis

Environmental Refueling Systems Inc. (ERS) is a major western Canadian wholesaler and distributor of fuels.  When in May of 2016 16 separate fires covering more than half a million hectares spread across Alberta and Saskatchewan, first responders needed quick and constant access to fuel.  ERS, using Computrol systems, stepped up to address that need.  Fort McMurray, a city of 90,000, was completely evacuated.  Here’s the rest of the story.

On May 3, around 12:00 noon, one of the ERS Account Managers who lives in Fort McMurray advised Cheryl Grue, Vice President of Sales and Marketing,  that his wife had just called advising that she had decided to take their son and leave their home as there were large chunks of ash falling on her patio.

That initial notice was enough to alert the ERS Operations team that there was a situation in the Fort McMurray region requiring assistance.  Since Fort McMurray has been ERS’  “home base” of operations for the last decade they have a significant amount of infrastructure and investment in that community and were in a position to offer support.

Scott Van Vliet, ERS’ President, and Chuck Brousseau, the Petroleum Systems Manager immediately decided that they would take a truck up to Fort McMurray from Calgary, loaded with jerry cans and a slip tank.

ERS Fuel Tank secured by Computrol Cardlock housed in integrated motor control center (MCC)

Word had already spread that people were evacuating and with some vehicles running out of fuel on their way out of town.  Scott and Chuck loaded up within the hour and headed out.  On the way to Fort McMurray, Chuck reached out to an old friend of his  with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo fire prevention branch to see how they could help with refueling.

The first night was spent on the main highway out of Fort McMurray helping stranded motorists as Scott and Chuck handed out fuel from the back of a pickup truck.  Other ERS colleagues spent the night getting their drivers and trucks out of the city so that they could be used as required.  A Super B tank trailer filled with fuel was sent up and ready to go by the time the first requests for emergency fuel were received that evening.

Within a few hours  a tank was mobilized at the Prairie Creek Industrial Park in the southern part of the city to support the fire efforts and to be on standby as needed.

Within the next three days ERS would deploy 20 staff, 9 tanks, 5 bodyjob trucks, 5 Super B trucks and 6 pickups into the region to support the needs of first responders.  Several times, ERS was forced to evacuate and move systems due to the shifting fire conditions.  In the end ERS was able to support the needs of the firefighters and other first responders without any loss or damage to personnel or equipment.


Tank on MacDonald Island

As the only fuel provider with access to the region, ERS continued to work closely with  first responders and  other infrastructure services to ensure that all fuel needs were met during the following weeks.  ERS was supported in many different ways by their clients that allowed ERS to access their fuel systems for additional support and by  suppliers that were at the ready when asked to provide supplies and/or support.  One such contributor was Computrol.

Critical to success was the ability to set up fuel systems in any location and in a very short period of time.  A key contributing factor was the Computrol cardlock systems that ERS’ tanks use which enabled emergency personnel to have access to any of the systems, almost immediately.

According to ERS, “Computrol was a key part of our success in this area as they offered 24/7 support for any issues or concerns we had as we set up these systems in remote locations and under time-sensitive conditions.”   As new companies made their way to Fort McMurray to assist with the efforts to save the town (such as Atco Gas, Atco Electric) it became clear that we did not have the time or manpower to hand out cards to every new system user.

ERS commented that “Computrol was instrumental in working with our cardlock department to show us how to activate the key pad so that it could be accessed without a card.  The ability for us to issue account numbers and PIN’s so that new users could instantly access the fuel systems was a key contributor to our success in the region.”

According to those on the emergency services front line, such support, minimal panicking, people doing what needed to be done, just all in all people working together and some luck made this crisis a success story.