Ammonia leak triggers Winter Club evacuation

Emergency crews respond but nobody hurt as protocol followed

THE North Shore Winter Club was evacuated Monday morning after a hazardous ammonia gas leak was detected.

The club was cleared shortly before 6 a.m., when staff heard a worrying noise coming from the ice rink's refrigeration plant.

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"There was a definite, audible leaking sound you could hear through the door and definitely a smell in the area," said Wayne Kennedy, assistant chief of District of North Vancouver's Fire and Rescue Services.

District crews assisted with the evacuation and called in a hazardous materials team from the City of North Vancouver. B.C. Ambulance Service crews and RCMP officers were also on the scene.

After firefighters activated the cooling system's emergency cut-off and were satisfied the ammonia had dissipated, they handed the facility back to maintenance crews. The cause of the leak remains unknown.

"It's hard to say," said Kennedy, "but what the technician told us was it was either a failed valve or a pressure release valve that went off. That's for them to determine when they get in there. We just wanted to contain it and not have it leak any further. These (leaks) are not routine at all. This is the first one I've gone to. They have quite a lot of safety features built-in, so it's quite rare to have an ammonia leak like this."

No homes were evacuated, and Kennedy said he doesn't believe anyone was in any danger during the incident.

"Everything with ammonia has to do with the concentrations in the air," he said. "For anyone a kilometre down the road, it would have smelt like a strong cleaning solution, whereas for anyone in close range it would be a real eye and respiratory irritant, and it could be fatal if you're too close and the concentrations are high. But you'd have to be in the room with the leak, because it's lighter than air and dissipates quite quickly."

The North Shore Winter Club reopened at 11 a.m., but the ice rink remains closed until the cooling plant can be repaired and the ice refrozen.

In a written statement, club president Kevin Banks praised his organization for developing and executing a sound safety plan.

"In this case, our safety protocol was followed and all our personnel are safe," he wrote.

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