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RDCK takes steps to guarantee safety in district facilities

Speed Skating Club was on the ice Thursday afternoon at the NDCC Arena. — The Nelson Daily photo

The industrial accident in Fernie this week that left three people dead, two municipal workers and one a Calgary-based contractor, with CIMCO Refrigeration, following an ammonia lead at the local arena has sent shockwaves through every city, regional district and parks board in the province that operate an ice facility.

“This is a terrible tragedy,” Joe Chirico, General Manager of Community Services for the Regional District of Central Kootenay told The Nelson Daily Thursday.

“It has shaken us all up. I don't know the people in Fernie personally, but I’ve been in those rooms inside the arena and our staff has been in those rooms.”

The accident has put most parties responsible for operations at the local arena on notice.

However, Chirico wants to reassure the public who may have questions regarding the operation of arenas in the RDCK — many that continue play host to minor hockey games, figure skating and speed skating practice as well as members of the public using arenas to exercise off the ice.

“We still don’t know what happened,” Chirico said. “What we do know is we monitor our facilities 24/7 and take every precaution to maintain them.”

The RDCK issued a media release explaining safety precautions taken at those facilities.

  • Our facilities are staffed by qualified and trained operators as per the Provincial Safety Standards Act - Power Engineers, Boiler, Pressure Vessel and Refrigeration Safety Regulation.
  • RDCK Arena’s at the Nelson and District (including the Civic Centre), Castlegar and District, and Creston and District Community Complexes have been “Risk Assessed” by Provincial Safety Authority.
  • The refrigeration plant rooms in each of these facilities are isolated from the rest of the building.
  • The plant rooms are monitored (24/7), alarmed, operated through direct digital control and designed to discharge an ammonia leak to atmosphere to ensure that the ammonia is dispersed in a safe manner.
  • Refrigeration systems have code required safeties that are designed to ensure safe operation of equipment.
  • The RDCK has a robust safety program including regular maintenance by qualified refrigeration contractors.
  • The Pioneer Arena in Castlegar does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Safety Standards Act - Power Engineers, Boiler, Pressure Vessel and Refrigeration Safety Regulation due to a smaller refrigeration plant size. However, the chiller has been recently replaced, plant room has had safety improvements, regular maintenance is performed and safeties are in place on the refrigeration plant.

The bodies of the three men were recovered two days after the deadly ammonia leak.

In response to the Fernie accident, Chirico said the RDCK is having staff review safety procedures with all arena facilities getting a third-party review.

Currently, the RDCK has a third-party-contractor complete audits of the facilities during summer when arenas are vacant.

The RDCK will also review any recommendations from Work Safe and BC Safety Authority once investigations into the Fernie accident have been completed.

“When we know more about the reason for the accident, we may be forced to change the way we do business,” Chirico said.

In the meantime, the RDCK is saddened by the news of the deaths at the City of Fernie arena and sends thoughts and prayers to all the families affected by this tragic accident.