The AV Multiplex is one of the 65-70 percent of municipal ice facilities in Canada that use similar ammonia-based cooling system to freeze indoor ice rinks. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Similar ammonia leak to Fernie not likely in Port Alberni, says former fire chief

Former fire chief says tragedy in Fernie hitting all municipalities

Port Alberni’s former fire chief says newer infrastructure at the AV Multiplex means the deadly ammonia leak at an arena in Fernie last week is not likely to happen here.

Tim Pley—now the city’s chief administrative officer—said the AV Multiplex is one of the 65-70 percent of municipal ice facilities in Canada that use similar ammonia-based cooling system to freeze indoor ice rinks. However, the multiplex is only 20 years old, and its cooling system is not close to the public.

“From my past fire department experience we have a good facility, fairly new and robust,” Pley said. “Not only is the infrastructure well set up to protect human life but the ammonia (cooling system) is sequestered, or in a separate room in the building that is ventilated to the outside. There’s no ammonia that passes anywhere the public would be.

“I’ve had comfort not only in the infrastructure but in our processes,” he added.

The city also owns the Alberni Valley Curling Club, which has a similar ice cooling system, but it uses a different refrigerant than ammonia, Pley said.

While Fernie continues to deal with its loss, Pley said other municipalities are feeling the grief too. “It’s tough. Your heart goes out to them,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the families.”

Pley said a situation like this “makes us revisit our procedures and processes. We’ll be taking a look at our procedures…I expect other municipalities across Canada will be doing the same.”

Willa Thorpe, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Heritage, told Port Alberni City Council on Monday night that review has already begun.

“Although it may be many months before we receive insight into what happened and what sequence of events occurred, we’re currently actively reviewing our ammonia and chlorine plants of our department, as well as involving our occupational health and safety coordinator and our fire chief,” Thorpe said.

“There’s over 2500 rinks that operate in Canada, and as far as I’m aware this is the first fatality. It’s a very dire situation, but we’re doing our due diligence.”

“Although it may be many months before we receive insight into what happened and what sequence of events occurred, we’re currently actively reviewing our ammonia and chlorine plants of our department, as well as involving our occupational health and safety coordinator and our fire chief,” Thorpe said.

“There’s over 2500 rinks that operate in Canada, and as far as I’m aware this is the first fatality. It’s a very dire situation, but we’re doing our due diligence.”

— With files from Elena Rardon, Alberni Valley News

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