Why P.E.I. rink operators are getting ammonia and Freon training

Rink and curling club operators were invited to take part in one of three special ammonia and freon safety training courses in P.E.I. this week.

'With a little bit of training, little bit of awareness, these rinks can run safely for many years'

Some arenas on P.E.I., such as Simmons and Cody Banks are more than 45 years old. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Rink and curling club operators were invited to take part in one of three special ammonia and Freon safety training courses in P.E.I. this week.

The half-day course demonstrated things like how to keep the machinery running smoothly, proper facility safety measures and how to handle emergencies, such as an ammonia or Freon leak. The training was prompted, in part, by two leaks in Canada last year — a deadly ammonia leak in Fernie, B.C., in October and one at the Pownal Sports Centre in P.E.I. last April, which prompted the evacuation of the facility.

Steven Townsend, the province's chief boiler inspector, said these chemicals can be quite dangerous if equipment isn't inspected regularly and safety mechanisms are not put in place.

"People could get hurt but with a little bit of training, a little bit of awareness, these rinks can run safely for many years with no issues," Townsend said.

Discussing proper safety procedures and arena protocols were part of the training provided for managers and operators of curling clubs and arenas on P.E.I. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"We just have to know that if you smell ammonia, or the Freon alarm goes off or the ammonia alarm goes off, this is what you have to do and if the rinks are maintained properly and we inspect them yearly, they are perfectly, perfectly safe." 

Townsend said the free course was organized by Recreation PEI and Inspection Services for managers and operators of arenas and curling rinks.

Officials inspect the Island's 24 ice rink facilities yearly, Townsend said. Some have full-time staff, while many smaller community facilities are run by volunteers with limited training.

Some of those curling clubs and ice rinks are more than 40 years old.

"Half have ammonia refrigeration systems and half have Freon," Townsend said. "If you want to have ice for a longer time of the year, you generally have ammonia. If you just have ice for a short period, in the winter time when it is cold, you will likely have a Freon-based refrigeration system."

Keeping up to date with aging facilities

The Montague Curling Club is one of the ice surfaces in the province using Freon.

"I've been there for 17 years, I know how to shut her down if I had to and I know what numbers to call," said Larry Richards, manager of the club.

An ammonia warning sign posted in an arena warns people to evacuate if the blue light is flashing. (David Horemans/CBC)

He was interested to learn about the different safety measures and protocols they had not implemented yet. He plans to take the new information to the board meeting next week to get the necessary changes done.

"Safety first, safety is the main thing," Richards said. "People are more aware of safety these days, things are happening around this."

A lot of the talk during the training session revolved around the leak in Fernie, which left three workers dead.

"If everybody looks at it from a perspective of what we can do to make this place safer, not be complacent about the workplace environment, put practical common sense to work and we can avoid or certainly mitigate any refrigerant leaks in ice rinks," said Derek Hawes with DH Solutions, who was facilitating part of the classes.

Operators from around the Island look at different arena and rink cooling systems as part of their awareness training. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"The people that are coming on new tend to learn from the people that have been there before them and they could have developed some bad habits. I think that one of the biggest factors in ammonia safey or Freon safety is complacency."

As part of the course the managers and operators toured a machinery room to see the practical applications of the course. The last half day session was at the Bell Aliant Centre, where the class toured the ammonia refrigeration system.

"Knowledge is power, and the more we can offer these types of sessions and continually communicate about these types of incidents and things that transpire and keep people safe, everybody can go home at night," said Dave Tompkins, plant manager at the Bell Aliant Centre.

More provincial oversight

Operators and managers also shared information with each other and were shown different protocols and measures that soon will be mandatory.

The province said it has been auditing arenas and curling clubs across Island for the past six years.

Their goal is to have every facility up to current codes and policies within the next two years.

"It's the safety of our kids," Townsend said. "Everybody that goes into these rinks should have the comfort knowing that if something goes wrong, somebody is there that says hey, this is what we have to do, let's get out of the rink, let's call this number, this is how we're supposed to respond." 

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With files from Tom Steepe