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

Life’s work of talented Salmon Arm sculptor leads to leukemia

Former Salmon Arm resident warns of dangers of chemical contact

Shuswap PRIDE to hold picnic today at Blackburn Park

LGBTQ2S folk and friends and supporters invited to a community potluck this evening, June 18.

Salmon Arm car dealership wants unique stolen Jeep returned

The red 1989 four-by-four was taken from Salmon Arm GM’s lot early Monday morning.

Video: Shuswap Search and Rescue help injured mountain biker

North Vancouver woman falls on trail in North Shuswap

Police request public’s help after cat shot in North Shuswap

Chase RCMP seeking information, small calibre bullets lodged in shoulder of pet

Murray McLauchlan delights Okanagan crowd

Canadian music icon puts on wonderful two-hour show at Performing Arts Centre

Rose Valley Rd. fire in West Kelowna has now been extinguished

West Kelowna Fire Chief says first two grass fires Tuesday were human caused

College investigates Okanagan physiotherapist

Stephen Witvoet’s matters are currently before the courts

Horgan says he’ll still defend B.C. coast after second Trans Mountain approval

Meanwhile, one B.C. First Nation has announced plans for a legal challenge

Demonstrators on either side of Trans Mountain debate clash in Vancouver

Crowd heard from member of Indigenous-led coalition that hopes to buy 51% of expansion project

MPs hear retired South Okanagan nurse’s petition to change compensation for fatal medical errors

Teri McGrath wants provinces to implement no-fault system for medical errors

Public weighs in Okanagan rail trail parking development

“It was a great evening to interact with the community and hear the input for the property”

Grieving B.C. mom hopes Facebook message leads to new investigation into son’s Surrey homicide

Criminal Justice Branch didn’t lay charges, concluding no substantial likelihood of murder or manslaughter conviction

Okanagan library branch back in business after Monday closure

Discovery of unknown powdery substance in Vernon book return prompts evacuation, closure

Most Read