These lights on the back wall of each of the arenas in the Terrace Sportsplex warn people to evacuate in the case of an emergency ammonia leak.

Safety structure in place with ammonia system at Terrace Sportsplex

Grappling with safety after three killed in Fernie ammonia leak

After three people were killed by an ammonia leak in a Fernie arena this month, the alarm’s been raised across the province about safety procedures at ice rinks.

Just like the Fernie arena, the Terrace Sportsplex and the Terrace curling rink both use an ammonia refrigeration system similar to most arenas in Canada.

Ammonia refrigeration systems are commonly used in the majority of ice rinks in Canada, but there are strict regulations governing their use, due to toxicity.

At press time, exactly what happened in Fernie is still under investigation. All that’s known is the arena was closed early on Tuesday, Oct. 17, for emergency repairs, and first responders were called in at 1 p.m. about a medical distress.

Three people were found dead that afternoon and the surrounding neighbourhood was evacuated for several days.

This isn’t the first time an ammonia leak has occurred, but it’s believed to be the first time fatalities have resulted.

In the Terrace Sportsplex, the ammonia refrigeration system is located a sealed room at the back east side of the building.

And if a breach did occur, the gas would be contained within the walls of the sealed room, and alarms and guages would notify staff to the problem, said Terrace director of leisure services Carmen Didier.

A minor leak, with ammonia detected at a concentration of 25 parts per million (ppm), would activate a low level alarm to notify staff. An exhaust fan would switch on to pump the ammonia out of the building through a vent.

A more serious leak, 100 ppm, activates a high level alarm which triggers an evacuation siren throughout the building and triggers flashing red lights in each arena.

Such an incident has never happened in Terrace before, Didier said, adding that Sportsplex staff review the risks and safety procedures every year.

Last year they had a training session with the Fire Department and CIMCO Refrigeration staff to go over a safety and evacuation plan, and they plan to the same again next year, said Didier.

Didier added that the system is quite secure and checked three times a year by CIMCO Refrigeration, the company that installed the system and maintains rinks across North America.

The Terrace Sportsplex was upgraded 10 years ago, 2007, with a second arena and new refrigeration system. Didier says the architects likely didn’t think twice about using an ammonia system.

“Ammonia was the industry standard (10 years ago),” she said. “It probably still is the industry standard. It is efficient and cost effective.”

There are alternatives out there though, and Didier said the city may look into those the next time they replace the refrigeration system.

“It’s just due diligence,” said Didier. “You gotta do that, especially after something like this happens.”

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City of Terrace Director of Leisure Services Carmen Didier shows the sealed room in the back of the Sportsplex where the ammonia refrigeration system is kept. Gages are on the outside of the door for staff to check before entering the room.

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