Jarrod Laroy helps fellow Sicamous Firefighter Shane McKellar into a hazmat suit for the ammonia leak training exercise at the Sicamous and District Rec Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 5. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)

Firefighters tackle ammonia leak in training exercise

Fernie arena tragedy gives urgency to practice scenario at Shuswap recreation centre

Firefighters burst through the front door of the Sicamous and District Rec Centre and began dressing in bulky grey hazmat suits.

Outside, other emergency responders set up basins and prepared hoses.

The lights of the firetrucks outside the rec centre lit up the night on Tuesday, Feb. 5, but the public had already been warned this was only a training exercise.

The reason for the firefighters’ presence at the arena and their specialized equipment was to test their response to an ammonia leak coming from the arena’s refrigeration equipment.

Related:Ammonia leak training exercise planned for Feb. 5 in Sicamous

The early moments of the training exercise had a grim sense of urgency. The dangers posed by ammonia were highlighted by the events of Oct. 17, 2017 in Fernie where an equipment malfunction led to the death of three workers and the evacuation of a large part of the community.

Once they were into their hazmat suits and through the doors separating the arena lobby from the grandstands and ice surface, the firefighters went looking for arena staff members who were posing as victims stricken by ammonia exposure.

The hazards of ammonia are well known to the staff at the rec centre who deal with the operation and maintenance of the refrigeration equipment.

One wall of the spotlessly clean room which houses the chiller is adorned with the numerous certifications the staff hold.

Lead hand Cal Franson said all electrical systems related to the refrigeration system are inspected carefully each season before the rink begins operation and start up is overseen by an expert contractor.

Franson said the staff are trained to make adjustments when levels of ammonia that are not immediately hazardous are detected in the air.

Arena staff are equipped with small bite block respirators and full face shields which can protect them from ammonia levels under 300 parts per million.

Related:Ammonia leak prompts education for Southern Interior

The training exercise was meant to simulate a serious ammonia leak where the firefighters’ hazmat suits are necessary to safely enter the facility.

The firefighters first evacuated a simulated patient who was able to walk but had to be led out of the facility by firefighters. Firefighters then had to carry a dummy out of the building on a stretcher.

Outside the arena, another team of firefighters was preparing to decontaminate both the patients evacuated from the building and the firefighters who helped them get out.

No water was used in the simulated decontamination because of the frigid temperatures outside.

“We’ve discovered some weaknesses in our own training and we can always improve and get better. It’s getting better and better,” said Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino to the firefighters gathered for a debrief after the training exercise.

Ogino praised the quick entry to the building the firefighters made but acknowledged the training exercise took place under ideal circumstances.

The firefighters donned their hazmat suits in the arena lobby for the training exercise, but in the event of a real ammonia leak, they might have to suit up in adverse weather far from the building in order to prevent themselves from being exposed.

Also on scene for the training exercise were firefighters from surrounding departments, members of the Eagle Valley Rescue Society, BC Ambulance crews and representatives from the local RCMP.

In the event of a major ammonia leak, each of these groups would have a role to play in getting exposure patients medical attention and evacuating the area surrounding the arena.

Ogino said the hot zone created by the ammonia leak simulated in the training would have encompassed Parkview Elementary, where a community event was going on the night of the training exercise.

Although preparation for a leak is essential to saving lives should one happen, Rec Centre facilities manager Wayne March said the rink at the Sicamous Rec Centre is one of the safest in the province.

He said safety measures in place have drawn praise from organizations such as Work Safe BC.


@SalmonArm
jim.elliot@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Peterson Bailey ensures Kevin Allen’s hazmat suit is properly sealed before the he ammonia leak training exercise at the Sicamous and District Rec Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 5. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)

Firefighters carry a simulated ammonia exposure patient out of the Sicamous an District Rec Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 5. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)

Firefighters decontaminate a simulated ammonia exposure patient outside the Sicamous and District Rec Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News

Just Posted

Keremeos man says stem cell therapy changed his life

Darryl Brewer says he went from being immobile with chronic pain to leading an active lifestyle

Okanagan-Shuswap Weather: Summer sun for Sunday

The forecast for the week ahead shows some rain but plenty of sun and warm tempertures.

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Showers to start weekend, sun returning soon

Environment Canada forecasts rain on Saturday and the heat returning next week

UPDATE: Penticton resident’s dog found safe

Nicholas Bozak thanks the public for finding his 17 month old mastiff chow

RDOS contributes funds to arts centre workshop

South Okanagan Performing Arts Centre Society wants input into proposed facility

July showers wash out half of the Okanagan’s cherry crop

Cherry growers say this is the worst season they’ve seen in decades

Community service ordered for Princeton man who stole from firefighters

A young man who stole food and money from the Princeton Volunteer… Continue reading

Okanagan rainbow crosswalk defaced

Vandals cover colours with white paint in District of Coldstream sometime overnight Saturday

B.C. VIEWS: NDP pushes ahead with Crown forest redistribution

This isn’t the time for a radical Indigenous rights agenda

Two dead in two-vehicle crash between Revelstoke and Golden

RCMP are investigating the cause of the crash

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Alberta judge denies B.C.’s bid to block ‘Turn Off the Taps’ bill

He said the proper venue for the disagreement is Federal Court

Hespeler had connection to Mennonite migration

Home in Summerland was built in 1907, moved when the highway was changed

Most Read