One of the victims in the deadly ammonia leak at an ice rink in Fernie, B.C., has been identified as a "gentle giant" who was the small town's director of leisure services.

The Alberta Association of Recreation Facility Personnel (AARFP) has named its incoming president, Lloyd Smith, as one of three dead in Tuesday's tragedy. Smith had only been living in Fernie for a year or two, following previous positions in Alberta, according to AARFP president Russ Tanner.

"Lloyd is a gentle giant," Tanner told CBC News.

Until this week, Tanner had been mentoring Smith to take over as the association's president in April. Tanner said his deceased friend was a loving father who enjoyed watching hockey with his teenage son.

"He didn't speak a lot. He wasn't loud, but when he spoke, people really listened to him, because he's very intelligent," Tanner said.

Smith was also a part-time paramedic and a childhood friend of Laureen Harper, wife of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Harper tweeted Thursday that Smith taught her how to drive a Zamboni.

Smith was one of two city workers killed at the Fernie Memorial Arena in the Rocky Mountain community on Tuesday. A Calgary-based contractor with CIMCO Refrigeration was also among the dead.

The bodies of all three men have now been recovered. The other two victims haven't been identified at the request of their families.

'We all have questions'

Norm McInnis, Fernie's chief administrative officer, said alarms starting going off at the arena around 4 a.m. MT. He said two city workers and a "specialist" were called in to assess the problem.

Somewhere between that dispatch and the first 911 call just before 1 p.m., McInnis said "something went horribly wrong."

"We all have questions as to what happened," he said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Sgt. Trevor Tribes said RCMP will continue their investigation on Thursday.

He said determining a timeline will be a priority for investigators, adding they will also look into, "whether or not there was a criminal aspect to this incident."

fernie arena ammonia leak

People gather near the Fernie Memorial Arena on Wednesday. The bodies of three people who died after a suspected ammonia leak were recovered later that night. (Lauren Krugel/Canadian Press)

3 'outstanding, most wonderful individuals'

Fernie Fire Chief Ted Ruiter said crews were able to enter the area through the main entrance early Thursday morning to retrieve the men's bodies.

On Thursday, Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano said she couldn't, "emphasize enough of how amazing these three were."

"There are no words to adequately describe the pain of loss for the families of those lost but also for the huge loss to our entire town," she wrote on Facebook. "These men were all outstanding, most wonderful individuals."

Fernie arena Facebook post

The city of Fernie posted this message to Facebook Tuesday morning: "Notice: The arena will be closed today while crews complete emergency repairs to the refrigeration plant." Three men later died. (City of Fernie/Facebook)

Norm McInnis, the city's chief administrative officer, said much of the same on Thursday morning.

"We lost two incredibly vital members of our team yesterday and we've all been impacted. CIMCO Refrigeration also lost a member and we want to recognize that," he said.

McInnis said all City of Fernie operations will shut down on Friday "to give time to staff, process, grieve and begin to heal." Council meetings scheduled for next Monday have also been cancelled.

Paul Jewer, executive vice-president of CIMCO's parent company, told the CBC that CIMCO has staff in Fernie to assist in the investigation.

"In the meantime, we are focused on the well-being of all those affected. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the team," he said.

Ruiter said the chemical responsible for the deaths is anhydrous ammonia, a noxious gas that can cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs if it's inhaled. It is commonly used in mechanical refrigeration systems, including those found in ice rinks.

ted ruiter fernie

Ted Ruiter, Fernie's director of fire and emergency services, addressed the media during a news conference in Fernie, B.C., on Thursday. He said the bodies of three men have been removed from the city's ice arena after a deadly ammonia leak on Tuesday. (Lauren Krugel/Canadian Press)

Health Minister responds

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix and executive vice-president of BC Emergency Health Services Linda Lupini offered their sympathies to the Lloyd family and thanked emergency responders who arrived on scene.

"He was a friend and mentor to many and will be sadly missed by all of those who worked with him. Lloyd's impact on the community of Fernie will be felt by many," it read in part.

"Our thoughts are with the Smith family today. We would like to offer our deepest sympathies, and we know the memory of Lloyd as a strong, kind and committed person and paramedic will live on in their hearts."

Ninety-five people living near the arena remain under an evacuation order and emergency social services are available, McInnis said. Affected residents have been living at a local hotel.

The city will maintain a state of emergency until next week.

McInnis said WorkSafeBC will be launching its own investigation after RCMP officers finish theirs.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story quoted officials as saying 60 people had been evacuated from their homes. However, the city has since released an official count of 95 people evacuated.
    Oct 19, 2017 2:22 PM PT