Fernie rink ammonia leak kills three
An ammonia leak is believed responsible for three deaths at the Fernie Memorial Arena (Google Streetview)
Three workers are dead, homes have been evacuated, and a local state of emergency has been called in Fernie after a possible ammonia leak at the municipal ice rink.
The southeastern B.C. city said in a statement that the state of emergency will remain in effect for seven days because of a potential threat to property and life.
The city also said details about the victims will be released once their families have been notified.
Residents in the evacuation area were provided overnight accommodations, the city said, adding that emergency social services will reopen Wednesday morning if required.
Police, fire, paramedics and WorkSafe BC investigators were on scene at the Fernie Memorial Arena after the leak was reported shortly before noon on Tuesday.
In an email, Trish Knight Chernecki from WorkSafe BC called the incident “a tragic loss of life.”
WorkSafe BC’s preliminary information suggested three workers were exposed to a gas leak. The agency was contacted by the Fernie Fire Department at 12:30 p.m. and there are now three WorkSafe BC officers on site.
More officers will be at the scene on Wednesday, once Fernie RCMP have completed their investigation.
Nearby homes and businesses, including a retirement home, were evacuated after the leak was reported, between 9th and 13th streets and Highway 3 and 6th Avenue.
The arena is at the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street.
Fernie fire chief Ted Ruiter said the situation was “somewhat under control.”
“Anytime you’re dealing with fatalities it’s always tough,” he said of the event’s impact on his crews. “We’re a small city and everybody knows each other. It’s very hard to deal with, for sure.”
The city said the victims’ next of kin have been notified and their identities are not being released at this time.
Ruiter said the Ministry of Environment is also sending staff to assist with monitoring and to determine what the next steps will be.
“We’re still concerned about some ammonia leaking into the environment,” he said.
In a media release, the city said emergency crews still can’t safely enter the arena, adding that it is working with CIMCO Refrigeration and is trying to obtain additional specialized resources to deal with the hazardous situation.
Highway 3, which runs behind the arena, remained open to traffic, but after the risk to the neighbouring area became clear, several streets were closed: 9th Street and 11th Street from the highway to 6th Avenue and 6th Avenue from 9th to 11th streets.
Tuesday morning, the city had announced that the arena was closed for the day because emergency repairs needed to be made to the refrigeration plant. Ammonia is used as a refrigerant for ice arenas and other large refrigeration systems.
Craig Mohr, coach and general manager of the Fernie Ghostriders junior hockey team, said the team was told early Tuesday that the arena was closed.
Barb Anderson, president of the Ghostriders said no one from the team was affected by the leak.
“The arena is city owned and operated. We are one of the user groups,” she said.
Ammonia is a colourless gas that is very toxic if inhaled and can cause death. It can cause severe irritation of the nose and throat and life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Symptoms of ammonia poisoning may include coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and tightness in the chest.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety also says symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort.
Here is a list of ammonia leaks at other Canadian arenas:
April 2017: Three employees of an arena in Pownal, P.E.I. were sent to hospital after a leak caused by a faulty valve. No one was seriously hurt.
January 2016: A leak in the ice-cooling system prompted the evacuation of the Jean-Paul Sabourin Arena in Gatineau, Que. No one was injured.
September 2011: Two people were sent to hospital after a leak at what was then called the Scotiabank Place arena in Ottawa. The building was evacuated and no one sustained lasting injuries.
May 2010: A leak at an arena in Fenelon Falls, Ont., forced an evacuation of the surrounding neighbourhood. About 20 homes were evacuated for a few hours, but no one was injured.
February 2010: A leak at the Kings Arrow arena in Oromocto, N.B., sent three employees to hospital, but all were released unharmed
July 1999: Officials evacuated the arena at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. About 100 children taking summer programs at the university had to leave the building. No injuries were reported.
August 1997: Officials blamed vandals for damaging a valve at an arena in Saint John, N.B. The resulting leak forced police to evacuate the area, including about 50 residents from a nearby seniors home. One rink employee received minor injuries.
June 1996: An ammonia leak at an arena next to Edmonton’s South Side Recreation Centre prompted an evacuation of the building. About 31 people were sent to hospital.
November 1995: A school outing took a dangerous turn when a valve on an ice cooling system came loose at a Toronto arena. An employee sustained second-degree burns and dozens of children from a local school were sent to hospital as a precaution. None of the students were injured.
June 1991: Ammonia leaking at an arena in Grand Prairie, Alta., forced the evacuation of about 325 people. This included students from local high schools in the middle of writing year-end exams. Officials said the leak was caused by maintenance workers who accidentally ruptured a cooling line.
— with a file from the Canadian Press