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'When he spoke, people really listened': Victim identified in deadly Fernie ammonia leak

October 20, 2017 1:03 AM
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'When he spoke, people really listened': Victim identified in deadly Fernie ammonia leak

Bodies of city workers, refrigeration expert recovered early Thursday morning

One of the victims in the deadly ammonia leak at an ice rink in Fernie, B.C., has been identified as a "gentle giant" who was the small town's director of leisure services.

The Alberta Association of Recreation Facility Personnel (AARFP) has named its incoming president, Lloyd Smith, as one of three dead in Tuesday's tragedy. Smith had only been living in Fernie for a year or two, following previous positions in Alberta, according to AARFP president Russ Tanner.

Until this week, Tanner had been mentoring Smith to take over as the association's president in April. Tanner said his deceased friend was a loving father who enjoyed watching hockey with his teenage son.

"He didn't speak a lot. He wasn't loud, but when he spoke, people really listened to him, because he's very intelligent," Tanner said.

People gather near the Fernie Memorial Arena on Wednesday. The bodies of three people who died after a suspected ammonia leak were recovered later that night. (Lauren Krugel/Canadian Press)

Smith was one of two city workers killed at the Fernie Memorial Arena in the Rocky Mountain community on Tuesday. A Calgary-based contractor with CIMCO Refrigeration was also among the dead.

The bodies of all three men have now been recovered. The other two victims haven't been identified at the request of their families.

Norm McInnis, Fernie's chief administrative officer, said alarms starting going off at the arena around 4 a.m. MT. He said two city workers and a "specialist" were called in to assess the problem.

Somewhere between that dispatch and the first 911 call just before 1 p.m., McInnis said "something went horribly wrong."

"We all have questions as to what happened," he said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Sgt. Trevor Tribes said RCMP will continue their investigation on Thursday.

He said determining a timeline will be a priority for investigators, adding they will also look into, "whether or not there was a criminal aspect to this incident."

The city of Fernie posted this message to Facebook Tuesday morning: "Notice: The arena will be closed today while crews complete emergency repairs to the refrigeration plant." Three men later died. (City of Fernie/Facebook)

Fernie Fire Chief Ted Ruiter said crews were able to enter the area through the main entrance early Thursday morning to retrieve the men's bodies.

On Thursday, Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano said she couldn't, "emphasize enough of how amazing these three were."

"There are no words to adequately describe the pain of loss for the families of those lost but also for the huge loss to our entire town," she wrote on Facebook. "These men were all outstanding, most wonderful individuals."

Norm McInnis, the city's chief administrative officer, said much of the same on Thursday morning.

"We lost two incredibly vital members of our team yesterday and we've all been impacted. CIMCO Refrigeration also lost a member and we want to recognize that," he said.

McInnis said all City of Fernie operations will shut down on Friday "to give time to staff, process, grieve and begin to heal." Council meetings scheduled for next Monday have also been cancelled.

Paul Jewer, executive vice-president of CIMCO's parent company, told the CBC that CIMCO has staff in Fernie to assist in the investigation.

"In the meantime, we are focused on the well-being of all those affected. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the team," he said.

Ruiter said the chemical responsible for the deaths is anhydrous ammonia, a noxious gas that can cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs if it's inhaled. It is commonly used in mechanical refrigeration systems, including those found in ice rinks.

Ninety-five people living near the arena remain under an evacuation order and emergency social services are available, McInnis said. Affected residents have been living at a local hotel.

McInnis said WorkSafe BC will be launching its own investigation after RCMP officers finish theirs.

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