WATCH: Three workers are dead in the wake of an ammonia leak at the Fernie Memorial Arena after being overcome by the deadly gas while doing regular maintenance. As investigations get underway into just how the tragedy happened, the incident is raising concern about ammonia’s common use in ice facilities here on Vancouver Island and whether a similar accident could happen here. Skye Ryan reports.
The tragic deaths of three workers at the Fernie Memorial Arena are hitting home on Vancouver Island where many rinks use ammonia every day to keep ice surfaces frozen.
“You know it’s one of the dangers of working within this field for sure,” said coach of the Vancouver Island Vision team Andy Reynolds.
“We all wanna just come to work, do our job and go home safe,” said the Nanaimo Ice Centre’s Rob Pakulak.
Pakulak is in charge of maintenance at the Nanaimo Ice Centre, one of two ice arenas in the city and says the accident is shocking, especially considering all the safety measures in place at this arena that would stop a similar tragedy from unfolding.
“Oh totally feel safe,” Pakulak answered when asked if he feels safe following the deaths in Fernie.
Pakulak showed CHEK News why by taking reporter Skye Ryan into the arena’s ice plant where the potentially deadly ammonia is stored, before being pumped below the ice surface to keep it cool. It is behind several locked fire doors, where with masks at the ready, it is surrounded by alarms to catch every variation in temperature and pressure.
In the case of a power outage, which early reports suggest happened in Fernie, a backup generator would kick in to alert officials and the Fire Department that something was wrong and no one would have been able to enter.
“It’s hard to say exactly what happened,” said City of Nanaimo Arenas Manager, Darcie Osborne. “And we won’t know for a while in Fernie but we certainly are going to do the best that we can to ensure our facilities are safe,” said Osborne.
Ammonia leaks still happen. In recent years, CHEK News has covered evacuations and emergency responses from Esquimalt and Langford to facilities in Nanaimo and Ucluelet, but the leaks were caught early by the safety measures in place to prevent a tragedy like that in Fernie.
“I think everybody in our arena community is feeling very deeply for the community and for those workers that were involved,” said Osborne.
It’s estimated ammonia is cooling half of the ice rinks in Canada, so just what happened in Fernie that resulted in three people losing their lives will have an impact from coast to coast.