British Columbia

Cranbrook, B.C., arena avoids ammonia disaster after ice-machine breaks down

The ice-making equipment at a Cranbrook, B.C., arena experienced the same problem last week that led to an ammonia leak that killed three men at an arena in Fernie, B.C., last fall.

'I think we were fortunate ... a serious incident was avoided.'

Cranbrook arena staff discovered ammonia levels in the chiller were low last week. Ammonia was discovered mixed in with the brine, which is a major health risk for those in the building. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

The ice-making equipment at a Cranbrook, B.C., arena experienced the same problem last week that led to an ammonia leak that killed three men at an arena in Fernie, B.C., last fall. 

Arena staff were starting up the chiller late Aug. 22 to begin the ice-making process, when staff discovered the ammonia levels in the chiller were low.

Stacy Paulsen, facility operations manager with the City of Cranbrook, says staff tested the brine in the arena floor and discovered ammonia mixed in with the brine.

The staff quickly shut down the ice-making system and alerted emergency services. 

"I think we were fortunate. We were on top of it. A serious incident was avoided with proper staff and protocol," Paulsen told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Cranbrook is now down to one arena, as the broken chiller provided ice for the other two arenas in town.

Ammonia cools when turned into a gas, and is therefore used to make ice.

The chiller harnesses that property by passing tubes full of hot and cold brine through a pipe filled with ammonia. The tube full of hot brine turns the ammonia into gas in one part of the pipe, while cooling the brine in another. Ice is created throughout this process. 

But the brine and ammonia should never meet.

Cranbrook is now down to one arena, as the broken chiller provided ice for the other two arenas in town. (Lorraine Swanson/Shutterstock)

When Fire and Emergency Services responded to Cranbook's discovery of ammonia in the brine, they ensured staff were accounted for and out of the building. 

There was no release of ammonia into the atmosphere. 

The chiller was scheduled to be replaced in 2019. 

Paulsen said it's uncertain if the problem would have been detected had it not been for the Fernie incident.

"Obviously within the last season, we've really reviewed all of our safety procedures."

Listen to the full interview here:

With files from Daybreak South and Jason Proctor

now