Ammonia leak prompts education for Southern Interior

Arena operators, first responders come to Salmon Arm to learn about handling ammonia

It may be the most efficient and cost-effective refrigerant for large-capacity systems, but ammonia must be treated with respect.

An Ammonia Training Workshop held in Salmon Arm last week addressed the properties of ammonia and how to respond to it when it becomes dangerous.

Chad Phillips, arena maintenance co-ordinator and chief engineer of the refrigeration plant at the Shaw Centre, attended a similar workshop in Vernon last year, following the disastrous leak in the Fernie arena that killed three people.

A nine-year veteran of the Salmon Arm Fire Department as well, Phillips was interested in developing the best possible response to an ammonia emergency. He and Jason Schwartz, co-owner of Modern Energy Refrigeration, the Shaw Centre’s refrigeration contractor, developed the two-day workshop, gearing the first day to industry and operators and the second day to emergency response.

“There are a couple of key points about ammonia; it is the most efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective refrigerant for large capacity systems,” Phillips says, noting it is present in other applications. “Don’t be afraid of it, but be knowledgeable about it and respect it in day-to-day operations.”

Related: Report to be released on fatal ammonia leak at B.C. arena

The workshop was hosted by the Ammonia Safety and Training Institute, Modern Energy Refrigeration, the Salmon Arm Fire Department, Salmon Arm Curling Club and the Shuswap Recreation Society, with instruction provided by the U.S. based Ammonia Safety and Training Institute and ERAC (Emergency Response Assistance Canada).

Day-one instruction focused on the characteristics of ammonia, its properties and states as well as a discussion on incident command systems in emergency response.

Attendees included reps from a number of fire departments, first responders and arenas from Kamloops to Summerland, Lilloet, Revelstoke, Logan Lake, Coldstream and more.

Phillips said Kelowna’s Sun Rype Foods sent three or four staff members, as did the Coldstream Fire Department because of the new lettuce-growing facility in their community. Refrigeration contractors from the Lower Mainland also attended.

Related: Inspections, training needed to prevent repeat of Fernie ammonia leak across B.C.

On the second day, emergency responders learned how to deal with ammonia leaks of various sizes, establish evacuation procedures and isolation zones and proper personal protective equipment, says Phillips.

“It was about ammonia leak response and creating the connection between the refrigeration operators, contractors and emergency services like the fire department,” he said, explaining the importance of the various groups coming together to respond to an emergency, with each member of the team knowing their individual roles in advance.

Following a review of information for attendees who were unable to attend the first day, training continued at the Salmon Arm Fire Department’s training centre near the airport.

“We had demonstrations and scenarios and put attendees through controlled scenarios, with personal protective equipment each person would wear, and we did some small releases of ammonia,” says Phillips, noting how proud he is that Salmon Arm has the infrastructure to host such workshops. “People were very impressed with the amount of education they received on ammonia, specifically as they deal with it every day. They felt they had gained a better understanding.”

Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley agrees.

“Speaking to other fire chiefs and other municipal personnel, it was an excellent course and very educational,” he said, pointing out six members of the department’s rescue team also attended, along with city staff. “Chad should be commended for bringing the course here, not just for Salmon Arm but other areas as well.”

Phillips, who has his Class 5 Power Engineering Refrigeration, says another workshop could be provided in a year or two if the demand is there.


@SalmonArm
barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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