Security guards at Wheatley blast zone have been fired for sleeping on the job

An explosion in downtown Wheatley on August 26, 2021 brings a building down to rubble (Screengrab via Chatham-Kent Fire Twitter)

Security guards who fell asleep on the job or didn’t complete their tasks or rounds at the evacuation zone in downtown Wheatley have been fired.

The move comes after Chatham-Kent police spoke to the security company in charge of watching the evacuation zone about complaints by some residents that the security guards were not doing their job and people are trespassing. On Thursday, a release from the Municipality of Chatham-Kent said, “Security members not completing their tasks resulted in termination.”

West Kent councillor Melissa Harrigan brought up the concerns the residents had at the council meeting on Monday night.

She said residents have been raising concerns about people trespassing at night and looting with some expressing concerns about personal belongings being taken from the evacuation zone. The municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire told councillors that he has not heard of any looting but has heard residents are worried about the security of their property.

Shropshire said more fencing is going up around the evacuation zone and more police patrols will be starting to ease trespassing and security concerns voiced by the citizens.

Downtown Wheatley has been evacuated since a blast on August 26, 2021 destroyed several buildings in the area and injured 20 people. Multiple hydrogen sulphide gas leaks at 15 Erie Street North have also kept the community on edge since June 2, 2021.

The municipality said work will soon be starting near the site at 15 Erie Street North and Entegrus will be removing infrastructure such as hydro poles to assist in the investigation to find the source of the gas leaks.

“We appreciate the ongoing support and patience of the property owners and the community, as we work to address the challenges presented by the current situation,” the municipality wrote in an update emailed to residents and business owners on Wednesday.

Work also continues to finalize the operational plan to safely allow residents and business owners to access their properties to gather belongings. General Manager of Infrastructure and Engineering, Thomas Kelly, said he’s trying to get insurance companies involved to determine if access to buildings and their winterization can be done safely. Over the next two weeks, municipal staff will also begin reaching out to homeowners and business owners to get critical information regarding access and make visit appointments.

“Our goal is to have designated contractors that all the insurance companies can share. It’s taking a little longer but it will definitely be soon. We just need to get all of the details of this new plan worked out. We certainly didn’t want 20 different insurance agents along with 20 different contractors entering the zone,” said Kelly.

Kelly said the contractors will get training in case of an emergency.

The municipality is also urging all residents who believe they have insurance-related issues to contact their insurer as soon as possible. The municipality has prepared a letter confirming the evacuation for anyone considering filing a claim and copies are available online or at the Wheatley Resource Centre at 108 Talbot Street.