Unknown and unseen by most people who live
in Abbotsford or Mission is a busy little port tucked against the north side of Sumas Mountain, at a place known as Cox Station, a former paddle wheeler stop on the Fraser River.
The terminal there, a few miles east of the Mission Bridge, is operated by Mainland Sand & Gravel, which quarries granite from the mountainside and barges the rock product downstream to clients in Metro Vancouver.
The site produces well over 1.5 million tonnes of rock annually - some years up to 2.5 million tonnes - to supply regional projects such as the new Port Mann Bridge and the South Fraser Perimeter Road.
Mainland's Fraser River waterfront facility loads up to nine barges a day, and that generates a lot of tug traffic that requires maintenance in, around and over the river, and creates unique working and safety challenges for the company crews.
The quarry also offers the only south shore boat launch from Chilliwack to the Mission Bridge - a fact that hasn't escaped the attention of Fraser Valley Search and Rescue, who keep it on their maps "just in case," said Dani Miller, the MSG quarry's safety and technical compliance manager.
To add to the challenge, the operation runs 24 hours a day, and for as long as possible during the swift waters of the annual Fraser River freshet, she said.
And offshore, towards Hatzic and further upstream are favourite haunts for fishermen angling after white sturgeon and salmon. Sometimes, those who don't know how to read the swirling brown waters or where sand bars may lie get stranded on the river, even overnight.
It's a dangerous place, so MSG has developed an impressive safety program that is run by its workers, and which is happily funded by the Abbotsford-based company's owner Ted Carlson.
"Our first responders are very highly trained, compared to others [in a typical industry setting] because it's mining," said Miller.
The company's safety culture doesn't go unrecognized. The Mainland men were the co-recipients of the Stewart O'Brien Safety Award in 2010, for the lowest time lost due to accidents in a mining environment in the province.
And during a heavy snowstorm in January last year, it was Mainland workers who helped a stranded Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service team up the steep snowy Sumas Mountain Road on the peak's north side to aid a resident in distress. They stored the AFRS engine in the MSG garage until the roads became passable.
And this fall, because of the work at hand, the distance to get help to the somewhat remote site, and because of a few "close calls" on the muddy Fraser, the Mainland crews decided to extend their safety program to include their own swift water rescue team.
The team is comprised of 10 trained mine rescue responders who already have mine rescue training, along with tactical training for high angle work with ropes and harnesses and in confined spaces wearing air tanks, said Miller.
Each team member undergoes 32 hours of training annually to maintain their safety tickets, and that will go up to 40 hours a year with the swift water, she added. The tools for swift water include a fast-response Zodiac, equipped with everything you would need to get an injured or drowning person to shore - a back board, radios, ropes, a 50-horse power outboard and water entry gear including dry suits, fins and flotation devices.
The training they underwent was intense, with two days spent off site learning from an ex-military diver, first responders and North Shore SAR experts - in the pool and then a day practising in full gear, in the middle of the Fraser, in September.
What do the employees think of all this?
"It's encouraging to see my employer make such an investment in this kind of top-notch rescue equipment and training," Colin Herbert, maintenance foreman, mine rescue and swift water rescue team member at the Cox Quarry.
Mainland now stands ready to help in a river emergency - be it their own, contract tugs, or fishermen in distress, said Miller.
"They can be pleased with and proud of their team - they look after each other and everyone around them," she said.
"But more importantly, it's good for the public to know where help can be found in case of an emergency. We would be the closest trained swift water response team to most of the sturgeon fishermen."