“Nobody’s going to die on my shift,” Little, a supervisor at the mill, told Roche and fellow head rig operator Brian Primrose, when he ordered a shutdown for clean up in January of 2012 following two fires at Lakeland and an explosion and fire at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake that killed two men.
“Glenn and I were both concerned about the amount of dust (at the Lakeland Mill),” Primose told a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Little and Roche Monday morning in Prince George, adding that’s why they met with Little.
Roche and Little were killed, and 22 other injured, when Lakeland Mills’ plant in Prince George was destroyed by an explosion April 23, 2012. It followed a similar explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill on January 20, 2012.
Primrose said he, and fellow millworkers, dealt with two significant fires at the mill the week before the Babine explosion and while fires are not uncommon at sawmills, the fires were changing.
“The severity of the fires was increasing, not necessarily the frequency,” Primrose said. “The sawdust used to be moist and grainy, it changed to a dirty, yellow flour.”
He said there were times when the fine dust wafted in the air in the mill and from inside his control room on the small head rig, he would have to stick his head outside the door and smell to make sure it wasn’t smoke.
He said the January fires were different that usual mill fires because the dust in the air caught fire.
“We were running out there with our fire extinguishers thinking we should be running the other way this time,” he said of the January 19 fire.
And Roche had prophetic words about his fate as well.
“’I think we could be next and it might take me too,’” his wife Ronda Roche said he told her following the Babine Forest Products explosion.
Ronda Roche said following the Burns Lake explosion, Glenn Roche felt there was going to be a fire at Lakeland and had made sure his savings accounts were in order because he was worried he might be out of work for a while if the mill burned down.
Alan Little was feeling so stressed during the last six months of his life that he was grinding his teeth at night and experiencing chest pains, his common-law wife Joanna Burrows told the inquest.
“He talked a lot (about what was going on at the mill),” Burrows said. “Basically he talked about the push for productivity which put safety in jeopardy.”
She said that often when he came home from work it “looked like he had been in snowdrifts,” from the dust in his hair and eyebrows.
“He was stressed about it,” Burrows said. “Something happened that increased his stress at work.”
The seven-man jury began hearing testimony Monday in the inquest, which is expected to take three weeks and hear from 47 witnesses.