After two trapped employees were rescued from the Saanich mall, where a driver crashed into a Walmart Friday evening, crews worked to safely remove the vehicle from the building.
Just after 4:30 p.m. on April 9, first responders rushed to Uptown Shopping Centre, where the driver had plowed through the cinder-block wall of the parkade and into the adjacent Walmart, trapping several employees in a freezer.
Deputy Fire Chief Frank Macdonald, the duty chief on scene, told Black Press Media on Saturday the driver “launched (the car) 100 per cent right into the wall,” went through the store’s suspended ceiling and fell down 10 feet into the deli area below.
The vehicle, pieces of ceiling, and other debris, wedged the freezer door shut, trapping the employees.
The incident, initially reported as an explosion because the crash was so loud, did not result in any serious injuries and the driver “self-rescued,” Macdonald said. He added that it was “extremely lucky that no one was gravely injured” because “the level of devastation under the vehicle was extreme.”
The crash damaged the store’s sprinkler system, so the water, power and gas had to be shut off.
Firefighters took command of the incident during the rescue and stabilizing process, before turning things over to police who remained on scene for several hours after to investigate the cause of the crash.
“Our crews did a fantastic job,” Macdonald said, noting that it was quick thinking that led to the employees being rescued through a hole cut in the backside of the freezer, away from the debris.
Fire crews returned later Friday evening to help remove the vehicle from the store with the help of a tow truck. A new hole had to be cut in the parkade wall, a floor below, with the help of a structural engineer to remove it because crews “couldn’t take it back out the same hole without lifting it up 10 feet,” Macdonald explained.
The next morning, police issued a statement saying the department could not comment on the driver’s age or gender, beyond confirming it was not an elderly woman, as previously reported by first responders on scene.
Macdonald noted that firefighters are trained to deal with these types of scenarios – rescues, cars that have been driven into buildings and structural collapses – but don’t usually see them simultaneously. He couldn’t estimate the cost of the repairs, but said it would likely be significant.
Walmart remained closed Saturday.