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Off-duty paramedic among three men who died in Fernie arena ammonia leak

Fernie Memorial Arena, home of the Jr.B hockey team the Fernie Ghostriders, is shown in Fernie, B.C. on Wednesday, Oct.18, 2017. Three people who died after a suspected ammonia leak were doing maintenance work on ice-making equipment at an arena in southeastern British Columbia, says the city's mayor.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lauren Krugel
October 20, 2017 - 10:45 AM

FERNIE, B.C. - The City of Fernie shut down its operations Friday to give staff time to grieve the deaths of co-workers following an ammonia leak at the local ice rink.

The BC Coroners Service said the men who died were Wayne Hornquist, 59, and Lloyd Smith, 52, both of Fernie; and Jason Podloski, 46, of Turner Valley, Alta.

The city has said two of the men worked for the municipality. A spokesman for the parent company of refrigeration business CIMCO confirmed the third man worked for their Calgary branch.

B.C. Emergency Health Services says Smith was a part-time paramedic who was off-duty and working at his other job with the municipality when he died Tuesday.

Smith began his career as a paramedic in 1996 and worked in the East Kootenay area for more than 15 years, executive vice-president Linda Lupini said in a statement.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen, tweeted Thursday night that Smith was a childhood friend who taught her how to drive a Zamboni ice-clearing machine at a rink in High River, Alta.

The Alberta Association of Recreation Facility Personnel said in a Facebook post that Smith was an instructor with the organization and its incoming board president.

"Lloyd is remembered for his quick and contagious smile, matter of fact way of stating things and most of all, his easy-going nature," the association wrote in its post.

Authorities are trying to piece together a timeline leading up to the deadly incident.

Norm McInnis, the city's chief administrative officer, said an alarm went off at the local arena around 4 a.m. Tuesday, prompting the municipality to shut down the rink and call in a specialist for emergency maintenance.

Shortly before 1 p.m. emergency crews responded to a 911 call and arrived to find someone providing CPR to a person outside the building. That person died.

"We all have questions as to what happened," McInnis told reporters Thursday. "Something went terribly wrong."

Fire Chief Ted Ruiter said response crews originally entered the facility Tuesday afternoon and discovered the remains of the other two victims, but left for safety reasons after performing an interior search. Emergency responders were able to re-enter the building and recover the bodies around 11 p.m. Wednesday, Ruiter added.

Ammonia is commonly used in mechanical refrigeration systems, including those found in ice rinks. It is used in liquid form but becomes a gas once it is released into the air.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says ammonia is a colourless gas that is toxic if inhaled.

An evacuation order remained in effect Friday for homes and businesses around the arena while crews investigate whether there is any lingering danger, Ruiter said. The city says about 95 displaced residents are being put up in a hotel.

Local coffee shop Mugshots Cafe was offering free food and drinks to anyone who has been forced from their homes, said owner Shauntelle Nelson.

"It was a pretty sudden thing and nobody had time to take anything with them," she said.

"It's a small, tight-knit community so it was just a no-brainer to just kind of offer a place for people to hang out."

She said the community as a whole is rallying to support first responders and those who have been displaced.

"That's what Fernie is. That's what Fernie does."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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