A Q&A with a Spill Response Technician

A captured memory of when Aimee Jones first started with the WCMRC in May 2022.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in an environmental career? If so, you’re in luck! In this Q&A article, we speak to Aimee Jones, who has been working as a Spill Response Technician and Deckhand with Western Canada Marine Response (WCMRC) for over a year.

Aimee is one of the dedicated professionals responsible for responding to marine oil spills and protecting the environment along British Columbia's beautiful coastline. Aimee’s story underlines the challenges and rewards of working on the water, the skills and qualifications required for this job, and the opportunities for career advancement within WCMRC. Read on to discover more!

Growing up on a farm with her parents in her early years in Stonewall, MB, Aimee loved to be outside and explore. Canadian-Filipino roots were planted as she spent most of her school years in Winnipeg. At 19, she moved to Calgary and studied to become a hospital pharmacy technician. After five years in healthcare, she pivoted to business development, gaining experience across different sectors, including tech, financial services, telecom, oil and gas, and facility management. After periods of time living in Calgary, Toronto, and Edmonton, Aimee settled near the Vancouver Harbour base, where she found her calling in the marine industry.

Aimee loves working on the water and exploring different places along the coast, such as Vancouver Harbour, Indian Arm, and the Fraser River, amongst others. She also collaborates with other teams based on the South Coast, Vancouver Island, and even Prince Rupert.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your educational background and how you became a Spill Response Technician?

I have always loved being near the water, so when I moved to Vancouver in 2019, I looked for opportunities to work in the marine industry. I got a job washing boats at a yacht brokerage, which sparked my interest in learning more about how boats work. I signed up for an apprenticeship program at the Quadrant Marine Institute, where I gained valuable knowledge and skills in boat systems and repair. In 2021, I decided to pursue a career in the commercial marine sector and enrolled in a program for women in marine at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) Marine Campus. There, I obtained several certifications that opened new possibilities for me. I also started my own yacht detailing company, which I manage part-time and seasonally.

After finishing my program at BCIT, I searched for marine companies that aligned with my values and goals. WCMRC stood out to me because of their commitment to protecting the environment and the variety of duties involved in the spill tech/deckhand role. I was very excited to start working with them in the Spring of 2022. I appreciate the opportunity to work with such an incredible organization and great leadership.

Q: Can you describe a typical day in your role as a spill response technician? What are the main tasks and responsibilities you have?

One thing I really appreciate in this role is that every day is different. We have different vehicles, trailers and vessels; inboards, outboards, skimming vessels, boom skiffs, mini barges as well as a lot of oil spill equipment to maintain and ensure we are response ready. As part of the operations department, we participate in training on a consistent basis with our crew. We have different crews and shifts, many bases along the coast and also bring in contractors to get them trained in the event we need additional resources for potential future oil spills.

Q: How do you and your team prepare for potential oil spills? Can you walk us through the training, drills, and exercises that you undergo to ensure the safety of coastlines, marinas, wildlife, and protected areas?
Aimee getting some steering time with her crew on one of their 45’ skimming vessels transiting from Vancouver Harbour to their Fraser River Base.

All spill response technicians go through both theory and practical training. We regularly perform Geographical Response Strategies (GRS) where we carry out exercises simulating a spill in any certain area. We look at what needs to be protected, such as marine life, shorelines, and commercial operations. We deploy boom and skimming gear.

Our Response Readiness Team (RRT) communicates with stakeholders in the community where the GRS will be performed and determine what type of vessels need to be deployed, how much boom* might be required, the type of skimming vessel/product storage requirements, and more.

*boom: a temporary floating barrier used to contain marine spills, protect the environment, and assist in recovery.

Q: What are the elements you love the most about your work?

I love working on the water and I love the crew I work with. I’m proud to be a part of a team that protects British Columbia’s coastline. I really appreciate how supportive the Western Canada Marine Response is of employee development, additional courses, and certifications.

Q: What types of vessels are you typically working on? How big are they, how many crew onboard? What's a typical work schedule like -- do you come back home every night? Is there an opportunity for work-life balance?

The kind of vessels I typically work on range from small work boats up to 65-foot skimming vessels. The fleet vessel types include single and twin, inboard and outboard engines that can have 2 to 12 crew members on board depending on which vessel. We have a few landing crafts ideal for shore landings. Our new barge, 76m long, has accommodation for up to 20 crew as well as product and equipment storage.

As for work schedule, we have a few different shift rotations. I’m currently on a 4 on, 4 off 12-hour day shift (6 AM to 6 PM) schedule. Currently I am home every night, however with the delivery of the new barge and the commissioning of our new base in Vancouver Harbour, our location will become a 24-hour base where our shifts will be 2 days and 2 nights on, with 4 days off. I really enjoy the work-life balance with WCMRC. Shift work was new for me and an adjustment but I really enjoy having 4 days off after every shift, it works great for me.

Q: How important is communication during a spill response operation? How do you ensure effective coordination among crew members, First Nations, and governing bodies? Are there any specific challenges or considerations when coordinating multiple vessels and equipment?
Communication is paramount. Many departments and stakeholders are involved when there is a spill, and it is extremely important for everyone to work effectively and efficiently together. There will always be challenges, and we train and prepare as best we can for a spill so if or when one happens, we can all be at our best. Weather, sea conditions, type of product spilled, and geographic area are all variables considered when it comes to what type of vessels and/or equipment are deployed.

“Communication is paramount.”

Q: Can you share any memorable experiences or challenges you've encountered while working on the water generally? How does weather, tides, currents also affect your work and/or spill response efforts?

It is great protecting and exploring the BC coast. There have been many great memories thus far, and many more to come! Our Zone of Responsibility (ZOR) is based around Vancouver Harbour. We familiarize ourselves on the water from Rocky Pt, up the arm to Granite Falls/Wigwam, False Creek, Howe Sound up to Squamish and up the coast to Sechelt. The BC coast is truly beautiful and I’m so grateful to be in this industry.

Weather, tides and currents can play a significant factor during a spill as well as when we are performing a GRS for training when determining strategy to deploy gear/vessels, route planning and overall safety and assessment of risk of the operation.

We are prepared to work in any weather. Weather, tides and currents can affect how any potential product behaves and moves in the water. This is especially important in determining how we approach and strategize recovery efforts. Time is of the essence to mitigate the spill. Any strategy to recover the product is situational. For example, with rising and falling tides on a shore tie; determining how much boom to deploy, overall boom length, how many anchors to set/drop and at what length, and/or if shoreline flush is potentially required depending on where the spill has reached or what area is being protected.
Group photo of Aimee and her team after a day of filming for a campaign promoting women in the workplace in the marine industry.
Q: What certifications and additional training do you pursue to enhance your skills and qualifications? How does continuous learning play a role in your career progression?

Since I lived most of my life in land-locked cities and towns, I did not really know where to start in the marine industry when I first moved to Vancouver. I didn’t know what the possibilities or options were, or what certifications were required; I essentially didn’t know what I didn’t know. I started off as a yacht detailer on Granville Island, learning the nautical language, boat terminology, getting used to being on boats and comfortable working on the docks. As I meandered my way through the early phases, I began an apprenticeship and started attending classes which helped me develop fundamental skills and knowledge. I gained a lot of perspective from speaking with peers and work colleagues, which helped me navigate the marine industry.

Working with WCMRC, I have been learning and developing as a competent spill technician. I’m currently collecting sea time and apprenticeship hours for my next tickets and certifications for 60T master, Small Vessel Machinery Operator (SVMO) and continuing my apprenticeship as a marine mechanical technician. I appreciate the continuous learning opportunities within WCMRC and the marine industry overall.

Q: Lastly, what advice would you give to young people, or a second career seeker interested in pursuing a career in spill response in the marine industry?
Be a steward of the environment. Gain relevant experience and be a team player. Have a good attitude and be willing to work in any weather. Meet the minimum requirements in regard to certification, the more the better. Have conversations with people in the industry who can help you navigate your plan. Sea legs are recommended!
Having dedicated professionals like Aimee onboard is a true asset to the spill response team. Their commitment to ensuring readiness for any oil spill incident and their adeptness in handling various vehicles and equipment make a significant difference. With their contributions, the marine industry can be assured of improved safety, efficiency, and a relentless pursuit of protecting our waters.

Learn more about how to start your own marine career here.
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