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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Hardy Mounties help First Nation chief build smokehouse

‘We have great maya’xala for all the community members, in each of the communities…’

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Access to remote Side Bay beach up in the bureaucratic air

Roads to the pristine north west coast Vancouver Island beach at risk of being deactivated

Mount Cain planning a modified winter season for north Island ski and snowboarders

Skiing is a COVID-friendly activity, but shared public spaces require adjustment

Remote B.C. tourism lodge staffed for coastal clean up instead of wilderness tours

The Great Bear Rainforest is home to exotic wildlife — and international trash

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Application deadline for fish harvester benefits program extended

Those financially impacted by the pandemic have until Oct. 5 to apply

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Most Read