Emergency phase now over

There is light at the end of the tunnel for downtown Wheatley.

According to municipal officials, the emergency phase that has been in place since a devastating August 2021 gas explosion has been deemed over in Wheatley. As a result, Chatham-Kent firefighters are wrapping up their around-the-clock standby emergency response.

That phase, which came into effect immediately after the late-August blast that injured 20 people, was officially slated to close on June 17 by station Chief Greg Hodgson and Wheatley firefighters. On Aug. 26, toxic gas detectors raised the alarm that afternoon, providing municipal staff and emergency crews enough time to clear the area before a blast destroyed two buildings about 90 minutes later. Twenty people suffered minor injuries from the explosion.

Municipal officials said advisers had reviewed the systems in place, and the firefighters no longer need to be present at the site 24/7. They will, however, be on site when work is taking place to deal with any situations that may arise.

“The fact that wells have been capped and equipment remains on scene to manage any releases facilitates these small contributions to normality as the community begins the process of recovery and healing,” officials said.

While the emergency phase is deemed over, vigilance remains a top priority.

“The incident is not over. This is another cautious step to provide reassurance and response to the community. You will continue to see firefighters in the area, and the team at Station #20 Wheatley will remain available as they always are when their pagers go off to get to the station and respond as quickly as they can to protect their community,” the municipality wrote in a statement.

According to the municipality, firefighters from Station #20 Wheatley, Station #19 Tilbury and Station #1 Chatham responded to the blast over the past 10 months. Nearly every firefighter in Chatham-Kent has, at one point or another, been on scene around the clock to maintain a presence and ensure the community’s safety alongside engineers, paramedics, and police officers.

The Wheatley gas leaks started in June of 2021, and the municipality said Chief Hodgson and his team have been on the front line of dealing with this situation for more than a year while also attending to 93 additional emergencies, such as fighting house fires, responding to accidents and medical calls, and other emergencies to protect their community. While there have been many updates as to work taking place to locate the source of the gas that led to the explosion and the work to plug abandoned wells in the area, firefighters were on the scene with the continued event for the last 294 days.

Fire Chief Chris Case thanked all who were involved in helping out with the devastating situation.

“I want to take this moment to recognize the work of everyone who is collaborating and striving to bring stability to the town of Wheatley,” said Case. “But I am compelled to recognize and be humbled by the dedication and commitment of all the firefighters, officers, fire dispatchers, and chiefs of Chatham-Kent who have answered the call to be present and ready to deal with threats. As the community continues to recover, they can be reassured and wholly proud of their firefighters.”


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