Sicamous and District Recreation Centre lead hand and head engineer Cal Franson explains the different safety equipment and protocols in place at the arena in the event of a leak.Lachlan Labere/Eagle Valley News

Safety high priority at Sicamous arena

Emergency exercise being planned to emulate mock ammonia leak

As far as public safety is concerned, Wayne March is proud of the equipment and protocols in place at the Sicamous arena. But that doesn’t mean he and staff there aren’t looking at ways to improve safety at the facility.

Interest in safety protocols at the local arena heightened after Oct. 16, when ammonia leaked from the refrigeration system at the Fernie Memorial Arena. Three men died as a result, city employees Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith, and Jason Podloski of Turner Valley, Alta.

During the Fernie incident, a local state of emergency was declared and buildings and homes around the area remained on evacuation for about three weeks as workers contained the leak and conducted repairs at the facility.

“I just had a meeting with the District of Sicamous yesterday about our system. We probably have one of the best systems in B.C. safety wise…,” said March, manager at the Sicamous and District Recreation Centre.

Arena engineer Cal Franson also stands by the extensive computerized safety systems and protocols related to the arena’s refrigeration system.

“I’d like to reassure (the community) that our plant is, in my opinion – and it’s not because I’m employed here – but our plant is as safe as it can be,” said Franson. “For me, I feel that’s why… when the BC Safety Authority is here, we get the reaction from them that we do. It’s all positive, all the time, they’re very pleased with our system. They feel it’s as safe as it can be… they feel we have met every safety standard that we are supposed to meet.”

That said, March is working with the Sicamous Fire Department to co-ordinate a mock emergency exercise that will include different players involved in the arena’s evacuation plan.

“We have been working quite closely with (arena staff) – they recognize the risk, we recognize the risk and we’ve done training together…,” said Ogino, noting the exercise is being planned for January.

“Wayne has just approached me with it and I’m trying to bring in the Shuswap Emergency Program, BC Ambulance, the RCMP and have all the players involved…,” said Ogino. “I would like to integrate the same thing they ran into in Fernie where there’s an evacuation, a fairly-long-term evacuation, and have some role players in that situation as well.”

Ogino is familiar with the calibre of the equipment at the arena and training the staff have and said it’s unlikely a situation like what happened in Fernie will occur in Sicamous. But he said it’s better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

“How confident are we with an actual large-area evacuation, responding to an actual ammonia leak with people down – there’s some challenges with that…,” said Ogino. “They do have very good equipment, they have very good training, but it’s like most organizations, even with fire, we say we’re very well trained to deal with a fire, but it’s how well we’re trained to deal with the people that are out of their home for the next month, number of months – we’re not quite so well trained with that. So we have the Shuswap Emergency Program, we have other things that step in. That’s what I’d like to get working towards. They’re trained for an ammonia leak. But say it’s a Fernie situation and it gets out of hand, do all the other players know what their roles are as well? We should drill it either way. I mean, we all know our roles, but it never hurts to drill this kind of stuff.”

March says the Sicamous arena’s computerized monitoring and containment systems are calibrated bi-annually, and the whole works receives regular inspection by the BC Safety Authority (now Technical Safety BC). All the processes and procedures, from warning systems to evacuation and lockdown, are displayed clearly, as are inspection logs.

Franson said he’s been with the arena for about three decades now and, in that time, there has never been a leak. But he is familiar with ammonia exposure from when former manager, the late Doug Birks, did an overhaul of the compressors.

“I was fortunate in my early years to do that, and it gave me real solid experience to know exactly what I’m dealing with,” said Franson.

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