Emergency crews were on scene at the Fernie Memorial Arena where three confirmed fatalities occurred Tuesday. (Alexandra Heck/Fernie Free Press)

Emergency crews were on scene at the Fernie Memorial Arena where three confirmed fatalities occurred Tuesday. (Alexandra Heck/Fernie Free Press)

Refrigeration mechanics students grapple with Fernie’s deadly leak

‘Something happened that created an immediate danger, and these guys were in the middle’: instructor

A deadly ammonia leak in Fernie turned into a sobering lesson for budding refrigeration mechanics at Okanagan College Wednesday.

Ray Koepke, an instructor with Okanagan College’s refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic pre-apprenticeship program in Penticton, one of three in the province, said his class had only gone over safety with ammonia refrigeration plants a couple of weeks ago.

“That’s one of the particular requirements for this class,” he said. “We’re very much aware of what safety precautions are in place, and what you can and can’t do.”

Read more: Investigators hone in on timeline of deadly ammonia leak in Fernie

With what’s called a Class-T machinery room, Koepke said there is no shortage of safety regulations that should bar a tragedies like Tuesday’s deadly leak in Fernie from occurring.

For instance, anyone who enters the room must have a refrigeration certificate, the mechanical room must have panic doors that open to the outside, a leak detection system needs to be in place with an audio alarm and visual meter on the outside to show the level of ammonia in the room. Anything above 25 parts per million is deemed unsafe, Koepke said.

But in Tuesday’s tragic incident, three people were killed by an ammonia leak, including two city workers and one out-of-town contractor, and a neighbourhood was evacuated.

In a news conference Thursday, officials indicated the alarm went off at 4 a.m., and the building was closed for repairs. But between then and 1 p.m., “something went terribly wrong” and a medical emergency was called in.

Read more: Fernie mourns after fatal ammonia leak

“To take three people out in such short notice like that, they would have gone in there working on something, they probably didn’t have safety gear on — and not required to, if there’s no danger — but something happened that created an immediate danger, and these guys were in the middle of it,” Koepke said.

“Not saying that they would have done something wrong. It’s just that they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not like these things go all the time, either. It’s got to be of some freaking thing that happened, some equipment failure, some device failure. Something happened that’s outside the normal realm of expectation for the piece of equipment.”

One of Koepke’s students works on ammonia at the Summerland Packing House, which brought the issue ever closer to home for the class.

“Everybody’s concerned about what happened,” Koepke said. “We like our people in Canada; we like to keep them. So we don’t send them into places where it’s not safe.”


@dustinrgodfrey

dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ron getting loose and sipping a glass of the family’s favourite greek amber spirit, Metaxa. (Photo supplied)
In Our Valley: Ron Lechner

Retired part-time singer and Rio Tinto lifer: Ron Lechner

Map of the road work that will be completed this summer. The streets highlighted in red are what the district planned on completing before additional funding, and the streets highlighted in orange is the road works that will be done with the additional funding. (District of Kitimat photo)
$1.1 million allocated for road work this year in Kitimat

Kitimat council has added $470,000 for more work by deferring four other projects.

Hirsch Creek Golf Course Volunteer, Augie Penner, talking about how he continues the tradition, set by Joe Atamchuck, to catch and release fry that keep spawning at the course. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
VIDEO: Kitimat golf course volunteers making moves for the fishlings

During the highwater season, salmon are known to lay their eggs in the ponds at the golf course

Ocean Wise’s cetacean photogrammetry research program uses aerial images collected by boat-launched drones to measure the body condition of whales. (Ocean Wise Marine Mammal License MML-18 photo)
LNG Canada commits $750K to whale research, conservation initiative

Ocean Wise education team will work alongside educational and Indigenous leaders in the area

The Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre will be closed from June 28 until September 13 for annual facility maintenance as well as teach pool and decking repairs. (Black Press photo)
Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre closed: June 28 – September 13

The aquatic centre will be closed for annual facility maintenance

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Most Read