Accidental lockup prompts changes at Heffley Creek landfill

 | July 27, 2011

A resident and her five-year-old son almost spent the night at the dump after employees left for the day, accidentally locking them in.

Upper Louis Creek resident Rebecca Advocaat went to the Heffley Creek dump about 20 minutes before closing to unload some dirt and brush before heading home.

“I went past the attendant’s station and there were two attendants working,” recalled Advocaat. “I had a conversation with them with what I was going to be doing. And then I drove away from them and I waved at another person who was lugging a large piece of equipment.”

After unloading everything, she swept the back of her truck, drove up to the front gate and was surprised to see it locked.

Advocaat said it wasn’t 5 p.m. yet, so she drove around the dump hoping to see if somebody was around. Realizing that everybody had indeed gone for the day and not having a cellphone on her, she started to panic.

“How was I supposed to get out of there? Nobody even knew that I was there. Then I realized I had OnStar in the truck,” she said. The police and the landfill contractors were contacted. Peter Richard, a Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) environmental health technologist, drove up to the site after Advocaat’s husband reached him through the after-hours line.

What’s especially troubling was that nobody checked to see if anybody was left behind before the dump was closed.

Advocaat said that while she appreciated the apology, in this situation, an apology alone wasn’t enough.

She wanted to see the landfill’s closing procedures reviewed so that this situation doesn’t happen again.

Richard said a standard operating procedure has been established for all TNRD landfills following a review of what happened.

Prior to this, attendants were only required to do a quick check of the site before locking up.

“Now they have a series of checkboxes for each day, and each day the form is filled out and put in a binder,” he explained. Under the new lockup procedure, one attendant is required to monitor the gate while the other attendant checks all stations. The attendant conducting the rounds is required to check off individual checkboxes for every station.

Barricades are also put in areas that aren’t accessible to the public to prevent a similar incident from happening.

This is the change Advocaat wanted to see happen, because being locked up in a remote landfill with a child isn’t a situation anybody wants to be in. “If I didn’t have OnStar, we would have been either locked in the dump all night or I would have had to drive through an electrified fence.”