Local douses flames in Function 

Fire on passenger rail car is kept at bay for fire department

A local worker at a machine shop in Function Junction is being rewarded for his quick thinking and bravery after rushing to the scene of a passenger rail car fire.

Randy Ficko was standing at the back of Proteck Industries on Wednesday, June 26 when he saw a BC Rail passenger train going by around 7:45 p.m. Smoke was pouring out of the top ventilator.

After calling the BC Rail emergency line he rushed to the scene and emptied six or seven Proteck fire extinguishers into the train before the Whistler Fire Department arrived.

"You just do what you can do in those circumstances," he said, shrugging off his bravery.

"We kept the flames out, so it wasn’t open flames, until the fire department got there."

BC Rail is thanking Ficko for containing the fire with a five star dinner trip on the Pacific Starlight Express or a trip on the Cariboo Prospector from Vancouver to Prince George.

"It’s nice to see people come to the aid and support of other people. It was just very, very appreciated," said Alan Dever, vice president of communications with BC Rail.

The two-car Budd train caught on fire shortly after leaving the Whistler station on its way to Vancouver.

There were 39 passengers on board the smoky carriage. No one was injured in the incident.

One passenger, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he heard a loud explosion and somebody hollered "there’s a fire!" before the train started slowing down.

"It’s just a bad day with BC Rail," he said, standing a short distance from the fire and chuckling over the turmoil.

The Texas native said he has worked with trains for 31 years in Lumberton, just north of Houston, as a locomotive engineer and has never experienced a train fire.

"I came 2,000 miles (for the Shriner’s convention in Vancouver) and get on a train and it catches on fire," he drawled, as he waited for the bus to take him to Vancouver.

"It’s pretty unique."

It was a long wait as BC Rail scrambled to find a bus. The displaced passengers were taken to Boston Pizza for food and drinks but they didn’t make it into Vancouver until 2 a.m. – roughly six and a half hours after they started their journey from Whistler.

Investigators have narrowed the cause of the fire down to a safety valve on the fuel tank. When the tank gets hot, that safety valve relieves pressure.

"We believe it has something to do with that valve," said Dever.

The extreme heat on the day of the fire may have also been a contributing factor.

"There may have been some form of mechanical problem underneath the car and the intense temperatures may have contributed a little bit to that," added Dever.

The BC 21 unit which caught on fire is just one of five Budd Car trains left in service.

"They’re breaking down all over the place," said Dever.

"We’re using parts from one to fix the other."

He is hopeful the cars will last at least until the end of October, when they officially go out of service.

"We’re going to be able to struggle and cope with our service commitments for the year but we’re hoping that we don’t have any other major difficulties with them," he said.

"They are unfortunately breaking down on a fairly regular basis."

The oldest Budd Car train is about 48 years old. Neither BC Rail nor the government has the $30 million to rebuild the train cars, which were originally designed for short commuter travel.

Instead, they chug through some of the most difficult terrain in North America, said Dever.

But he would not link the age of the cars and the fact that they are coming to an end of their service life to the recent fire.

"I just don’t want to make that direct link. But it may have been a contributing factor, I can’t say."

Randy Ficko, on the other hand, was a contributing factor in dousing the flames of the fire.

In addition to the train trip, BC Rail is servicing all the Proteck fire extinguishers that were used to fight the flames.

"We watch a lot of trains go by," said Ficko.

"We can recognize one that’s smoking."

The remaining Budd Car trains are being checked over by investigators.

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