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Smoke could still be seen coming from a smouldering pile of crushed cars at AIM Recycling in Saint John on the morning of Sept. 15, 2023. Image: Brad Perry

Former fire chief to lead AIM Recycling fire investigation

By Brad Perry Sep 22, 2023 | 4:41 PM

A former Saint John fire chief will investigate last week’s industrial fire at American Iron and Metal (AIM) in Saint John.

Rob Simonds has been appointed by members of the task force examining the events that took place on Sept. 14.

Simonds, a former chief of the Saint John and Hamilton, Ont., fire departments, has more than 35 years of experience in fire services and investigation.

He currently works as the chief administrative officer for the Municipality of the County of Colchester in Nova Scotia, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The provincial government has also released more details about who will serve on the task force, which was first announced on Monday.

Cheryl Hansen, clerk of the Executive Council, will serve as chair and Andrew Dixon, chief operating officer of Port of Saint John, is vice-chair.

Also on the task force are Attorney General Ted Flemming, Labour Minister Arlene Dunn, and Port Saint John employees Bruce Connell and Alex Calvin.

“Our government recognizes the importance of finding out what happened, and residents of Saint John – and all New Brunswickers – should feel confident that we are acting swiftly and thoroughly to provide those important answers,” Premier Blaine Higgs said in a news release on Friday.

“I would ask for the public’s patience as we work to complete the investigation, and I look forward to receiving the recommendations at the conclusion of the review.”

Last week’s fire inside a massive pile of crushed cars burned over the course of two days, prompting a voluntary city-wide shelter-in-place order due to air quality concerns.

It has also renewed calls from some in the community, including members of Saint John council, to shut down AIM Recycling once and for all.

Premier Blaine Higgs did not make a firm commitment but hinted that the facility may never restart its operations.

“That facility will not start up until an investigation is complete and we’re satisfied that it can run, and right now, given what’s happened leading into this, there’s a lot of doubt about that,” Higgs told reporters on Tuesday.

The fire was the latest in a string of incidents at the facility, such as numerous explosions and two workplace fatalities.

Port Saint John CEO Craig Bell Estabrooks said they are reviewing their lease with AIM, but it is too soon to say what the outcome of that review could be.

“We’re looking at the compliance, the terms of conditions of that lease with our legal counsel,” he said. “They’re looking at all aspects of that lease.”

Even before the fire, Bell Estabrook said discussions were underway to move the metal shredding component of AIM’s operations off of port property.

Port Saint John has suspended all activities at the terminal where the fire occurred, and only emergency operations related to stabilizing the site will be permitted.

In a letter to AIM Recycling’s terminal manager, Bell Estabrooks said they have “serious concerns with regard to load bearing and the structural integrity of your premises and adjoining piers” due to the volume of water placed on the fire.

The provincial government has also suspended AIM’s approval to operate and directed it to cease activities until further notice.