Fernie mayor thanks Flames for 'beautiful gesture' of outdoor rink after 3 men died in ammonia leak

The mayor of Fernie, B.C., is thanking the Calgary Flames Foundation for the "beautiful gesture" of paying for an NHL-sized outdoor rink, in the wake of the closure of its indoor rink after an ammonia leak killed three men.

B.C. town's arena remains closed after fatal ammonia leak

The C of Red is ignited at the first home game of the Calgary vs. Anaheim series in 2015. The Calgary Flames Foundation has donated boards to build an outdoor rink in Fernie, B.C., after three men died in the city's arena. (NHL/Getty Images)

The mayor of Fernie, B.C., is thanking the Calgary Flames Foundation for the "beautiful gesture" of paying for an NHL-sized outdoor rink.

The community's indoor arena has been closed since ammonia — a toxic gas used to freeze ice — leaked and killed three men last month.

The town's recreational services director Lloyd Smith, 52, chief facility operator Wayne Hornquist, 59, and refrigeration specialist Jason Podloski, 46, died when investigating an alarm early in the morning on Oct. 17 at the Fernie Memorial Arena.

"I have to say the first couple of weeks were pretty challenging and sad for everybody," Mayor Mary Giuliano told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"I think people are starting to heal, and certainly this beautiful gesture … is helping to alleviate some of the concerns that people have had about a lack of a rink."

Wayne Hornquist, left, Lloyd Smith, centre, and Jason Podloski, right, died from being exposed to leaked ammonia gas on Oct. 17. (City of Fernie/Facebook)

Earlier this month, the Calgary Flames Foundation contacted the City of Fernie to offer to pay for a full-sized outdoor rink.

The Fernie Lions Club co-ordinated the offer and found local businesses to donate supplies and skilled labour to the project.

On Monday, city council accepted a donation from the Calgary Flames Foundation in the form of boards, penalty boxes, player benches and a time keeper box. The city agreed to cover maintenance and operational costs.

"We believe in the power of sport and the benefit of providing communities opportunities to play and are happy to be a part of mobilizing this in Fernie," foundation executive director Candice Goudie said in a statement.

Construction has begun, with the goal of opening the rink open to the public by winter break.

A worker on the construction site for the new outdoor arena at the Fernie Aquatic Centre. (Mary Giuliano/City of Fernie)

The full-sized outdoor rink with natural ice will be built at the Fernie Aquatics Centre, and can made permanent if the city decides. 

It's large enough that youth, seniors, and recreational hockey teams and figure skating can use it as a replacement for the indoor rink.

Right now, families and players are driving to donated ice times at rinks in the B.C. towns of Elkford, about 65 kilometres north, and Sparwood, about 30 kilometres north.

"We've been told by citizens that came and approached the city that the commute is being found difficult for some of the parents and the children, and they were concerned that some of them were dropping out," Giuliano said.

"So this is really a welcome addition because having the rink here in Fernie will allow for those groups to use it."

'The loss was huge'

Fernie has another outdoor, smaller rink. Last year, Lloyd Smith had one built on the city's courthouse lawn for public use. 

"It was used by everybody. Every day there were children and families on it," Giuliano said. "And this year, it is being put out again just because we want to honour Lloyd."

Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano, pictured, says the outdoor rink will accommodate many hockey and skating programs. (Lacey Mitchell)

She said the town will continue to miss all three men, two of whom she knew personally. Podloski lived in Alberta but his girlfriend was "longtime Fernie, born and raised," Giuliano said, a "person that we all know."

"The loss was huge for all three men."

With files from Caroline Wagner and the Calgary Eyeopener.