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

BC BUDGET: New spaces a step to universal child care

Fees reduced for licensed daycare operators

BC BUDGET: NDP cracks down on speculators, hidden ownership

Foreign buyers’ tax extended to Fraser Valley, Okanagan, Vancouver Island

BC BUDGET: Payroll tax replaces medical premiums

Health spending to increase $1.5 billion for drugs, primary care teams

Polar Peak officially open

On February 19, Fernie Alpine Resort announced that Polar Peak was officially… Continue reading

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

VIDEO: Top 10 B.C. budget highlights

The NDP is focusing on childcare, affordable housing and speeding up the elimination of MSP premiums

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Widow of avalanche victim sues Golden lodge operator

A woman from Alberta is suing guides, their mountain guide association and the lodge operator for negligence

BC BUDGET: NDP hope to nix court delays with $15 million cash influx

Union says funding could stop sheriffs from leaving for higher paid jobs

Cattlemen urge B.C. to prevent erosion caused during 2017 wildfire season

Other concerns are fencing restoration and repair, and a lack of feed for cattle.

Patrick Brown’s Tory leadership bid fate looms

Brown’s bid to for Tory leadership to be decided on Wednesday

Alberta shrugs off B.C. legal challenge on wine ban

The potential fine Alberta faces for violating free trade rules according to economic development minister

Yelling vulgar slur at reporter not a crime says judge

Judge rules ‘vulgar’ slur against reporter was not a public disturbance

B.C. runner takes silver at Pan American cross-country championships

Tyler Dozzi’s medal pushes U20 Team Canada to gold finish

Most Read