Sooke firefighters donned hazmat suits to investigate a minor chemical spill in a van last Wednesday night on Sooke Road.
The stretch of Highway 14 was closed between Charters and Drennan for a couple of hours while the Sooke fire department worked with RCMP to clean up some usually harmless cleaning agents that accidentally combined together creating debilitating fumes, said Fire Chief Steve Sorensen.
“We sent our guys in encapsulating suits and set up a decontamination area in case they spill anything on them,” said Sorensen.
They pulled everything out of the van, belonging to a 44-year-old man working for a cleaning company, and discovered a large container of Pine-Sol that mixed with powdered bleach and chlorine making a “variety of of nasty gases.”
The gasses caused the driver to become impaired without his knowledge, said RCMP staff sergeant Steve Wright.
At 7:45 p.m. that night, police received a complaint of the worker swerving onto oncoming traffic in the 5400 block of Sooke Road. An officer had difficulty stopping the man who was driving erratically.
“The guy got out of the and he was indicating strong signs of impairment,” said Wright. “The police officer had an immediate reaction and as soon as he opened the door (he realized) how strong it was. So we called the fire department.”
The smell was so strong, in fact, that the officer had to be taken to the hospital for precautionary measures. He was released shortly after with no lasting effects. The driver sat in the back of the squad car until he was looked at by the ambulance service, by which time he was no longer showing any visible symptoms.
Sorensen said the man was lucky.
“If it did make chlorine gas or ammonia gas there definitely can be health implications. Enough of it could be deadly.”
The van was towed and cleaned out before being returned. The driver was released with no charges but given a suggestion that he put in some kind of retention system.
Sooke, part of the regional hazmat team, is one of the few municipalities to own some of their own hazardous materials equipment, said Sorensen.