Arena Safety Week’s importance magnified by 2017 deaths in Fernie

The City of Kamloops operates eight sheets of ice, each of them utilizing ammonia, as did the leaky system that failed in Fernie, with catastrophic results

The City of Kamloops is showing off the tools staffers use to keep Tournament Capital ice rinks safe as part of its first-ever Arena Safety Week.

Jeff Putnam, the city’s parks and civic facilities manager, said the municipality decided to set aside a week for arena safety following the deaths on Oct. 17, 2017, of three workers inside Fernie’s Memorial Arena.

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The trio was killed by an ammonia leak — the result of the failure of aging equipment, poor operation and problematic management, according to a government report into the deaths.

“I believe we’re the first municipality in B.C. to devote an entire week to arena safety,” Putnam told KTW.

“It’s an opportunity to provide our staff focused training around arena safety. We’re doing drills, going over safety procedures and that sort of thing.”

The City of Kamloops operates eight sheets of ice, each of them utilizing ammonia, as did the leaky system that failed in Fernie, with catastrophic results.

arena safety
City of Kamloops arena supervisor Francois Chasse (left) and recreation and facilities supervisor Adam Simpson show the ice resurfacer to the media during a tour of McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre on Wednesday, Feb. 6. - Dave Eagles

Putnam said Kamloops rinks are safe thanks to solid management and well-trained employees.

“We are in really good shape,” he said. “Some of our arena leaders here have 30 years of experience. There’s quite a lot that goes into these jobs.”

The city employs about 30 arenas staff, Putnam said — two leaders, 10 supervisors and about 20 workers.

Francois Chasse, one of the 10 supervisors, said safety is a big part of his job.

“We have our workplace procedures we follow,” he said. “We do yearly arena safety drills. We also upgrade our equipment as required. … We do yearly maintenance on our equipment. That’s all part of keeping things in good working order.”

According to Putnam, the focus on safety is a year-round effort.

arena safety
These are compressors and chillers used in the process of making ice surfaces. - Dave Eagles

“Our arenas operate seven days a week, 18 hours a day, some of them for eight-and-a-half months,” Putnam said. “Brock Arena never shuts down — it’s operating all summer with ice.”

Putnam said the city spends about $1 million annually on maintenance for arenas — including ice plants, which cost about $500,000, and Zamboni or Olympia ice-cleaning machines, which run about $300,000.

He said the city has eight ice plants, each with a lifespan of about 20 years.

Arena Safety Week wraps up on Friday with a free skate from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the NHL-size rink on McArthur Island.

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