Ammonia, which killed 3 in Fernie, B.C., is used in majority of Alberta rinks

The gas is used extensively, but one expert says he's not aware of a similar tragedy striking at any rink in Canada.

Despite its prevalence, one expert says he's not aware of a similar tragedy occurring in Canada

Melissa Byers says she never considered the arena a dangerous place prior to the accident in Fernie, B.C., that killed three people. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

We could be years away from knowing exactly what happened at the Fernie, B.C., arena that led to the death of three people, but one industry expert says the same refrigerant, ammonia, is used in the majority of arenas in Alberta.

"There are approximately 344 arenas in Alberta and of those, 275 would have ammonia," Stuart Ray of the Alberta Association of Recreation Facility Personnel told CBC News on Friday.

But Ray says the Fernie incident seems to be extremely rare.

"We are shocked and saddened by the loss of the three people who were in the facility," he said.

"This kind of thing doesn't happen very often, in fact, I don't even know if it has ever happened in Canada, that there has been such a tragedy in an arena before."

Danger off the ice

Ray says the investigations into what happened in Fernie, could take a while.

"I believe it's going to take a long time for all of the various jurisdictions to do their reviews and write their reports," he said.

"In similar fatalities, within facilities, it has been a couple of years before all of the results are made public."

Melissa Byer's two young sons play hockey three times a week at Calgary's West Hillhurst arena.

She says she never considered the rink a dangerous place to be, off the ice.

"It's worrisome, if all arenas have ammonia then what are the precautionary measures that they take to make sure that doesn' thappen here or any other rink," she said. 

No other incidents

While there are other refrigerants, ammonia is the most popular in Canada, according to Ray.

"It is compressed, that way you are able to remove the heat from the arena floor and then take that heat, reject it to the outside and thus freezes the water inside of the building."

Ray says arena operators are given thorough training and have to comply with multiple codes and laws around safety.

"Until we actually know what the cause was, it's too early to speculate what we would do differently, but from the operation and maintenance of our arenas, and the technicians that come in and do regular inspections, that is all part and parcel of the process that our facility operators are trained to do."

With files from Julien Lecacheur and Colleen Underwood