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October 20 Press Conference Update:

The Emergency Response team continues to work around the clock to try to stabilize the situation at the Fernie Arena to allow our evacuated community members to return home. To allow the investigation to continue, and the evacuation order to be reassessed, the situation must be fully stable.

“We requested additional resources that arrived last evening including Emergency Response Team members from Teck in Trail, BC and Agrium’s Calgary Emergency Response Team. These teams bring important additional expertise to assist us in dealing with the hazardous material” says Chief Ted Ruiter. In addition a pressure vessel is en route from Edmonton. This vehicle has the ability to draw the ammonia from the system, contain it in the vessel and transport it to a waste facility. It is expected to arrive at approximately 10PM MT.

“Residents are reminded the Evacuation Order is still in effect, and we would like to impress on residents the importance of continuing to adhere to the evacuation boundary. At this time there is an ammonia odour in the immediate vicinity of the Arena, however, we want to assure the public they remain safe and that we are continuously monitoring the levels” adds Chief Ruiter.

Specialists from the Provincial Disaster Psychosocial Program have arrived in Fernie to offer services to anyone in our community who feels they need assistance to help deal with grief and stress. This free service is available by calling 250-489-9677 or dropping into their temporary office located at College of the Rockies 342 – 2nd Avenue (Saturday 10:00AM to 2:00PM).

An information line with a recorded message detailing the latest information is available at 1-855-346-2188 and the City will continue to provide updates as they become available.

October 19 Press Conference Update:

City of Fernie emergency responders were able to enter the Memorial Arena early this morning to recover the remaining two workers who died earlier this week as a result of an ammonia leak in the facility.

“Ventilation continued throughout the night and we reached a point at approximately 11PM where we determined recovery could commence. A trial run was completed to ensure no barriers would hamper the recovery and that the response team would not be put in any further danger. Once this was confirmed, we were able to recover the victims,” explains Fernie Fire and Rescue Chief Ted Ruiter.

“Getting the evacuated residents home remains our priority however we need to make sure we get them home safely,” adds Ruiter. “The first step will be getting a good understanding of what we’re dealing with. Once that piece is in place we will have a better idea of a time line on the evacuation order.” Work continues this afternoon to stabilize the situation to allow for safe access to the arena. At this time, the evacuation order remains in effect.

The Reception Centre remains open at the Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre and accommodations are being provided at a local hotel for the approximately 95 residents, who have been evacuated from their homes since Tuesday.

The City of Fernie met with its employees yesterday and is offering a number of support services. An Employee Family Assistance Program has been established to provide long term support for those who need it and a specialized team of Provincial grief counsellors is enroute to Fernie to provide support services to not only City of Fernie staff, but to any resident needing support during this difficult time. More details will be provided on how to access these resources once the team arrives.

The City has announced it will be closing all of its operations tomorrow, including City Hall, and they will remain closed through the weekend.

An information line with a recorded message detailing the latest information has been set up at 1-855-346-2188

Norm McInnis, the City of Fernie’s CAO, said, “We all have questions about what happened. We know that at approximately 4am on Tuesday October 17 an alarm went off at the arena. In the hours following that, a call was made to close the arena for emergency repairs, and a specialist was called in to assist. What happened between then and 12:56 PM when the 911 call was made, something went terribly wrong. The details of that timeline will be the subject of this investigation.”

RCMP Sgt. Trevor Tribes said, “Crews have recovered the other two victims from the arena, now that the leak in the west part of the building has been contained. The east section is still blocked off.”

The first victim was found by emergency workers who arrived on Tuesday following the 911 emergency call. That person was taken to hospital and the other two were found in the arena shortly after.

No details have been provided as to what condition the three were found in. They were two City of Fernie workers and one contractor from Calgary.

The Elk Valley RCMP are asking the public to come forward with any information on what happened.

October 18 Evening Update:
The City’s Emergency Response team has continued to work with hazmat and air monitoring experts RAM Environmental out of Kelowna and GHD from Calgary, Worksafe BC and Interior Health and have developed a strategy to gain safe entry to the building. Entry was made on the west side of the building today where it was deemed safe. Levels on the east side of the building remain high and not safe for entry at this time. The RCMP investigation remains active. ESS was open today and evacuees have been provided accommodation for a second night. The evacuation area remains unchanged.

October 18 Afternoon Update:
The precautionary evacuation order remains in place around Fernie Memorial Arena this afternoon as a specialized hazardous materials team continues to work with City of Fernie Fire and Emergency Services to contain an ammonia leak inside the arena.

“The primary focus at this time is developing a plan to secure safe access to the facility, which has been closed since yesterday afternoon when Fernie Fire and Rescue responded to the scene,” says City of Fernie Communications Coordinator Liz Rhodes. “Crews are also completing perimeter checks of the levels in the air around the building.”

Late this morning, the City confirmed two of the three fatalities involved City of Fernie employees and, at the request of the families, their names are not being publicly released. The City is urging residents and media to respect the privacy of the affected families and staff during this difficult time.

“Fernie is a tight-knit community and I know we will pull together to support one another as we have in the past,” says Mayor Mary Guiliano. “The City is arranging for support to the families and our workers to help manage the grief and emotions we are all feeling.”

Residents in the affected area who have been evacuated are being offered accommodation at a local hotel until the evacuation order has been lifted and the Emergency Reception Centre remains set up at the Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre.

Just before one o’clock yesterday afternoon, Fernie Fire Rescue responded to a medical assist call as a result of an anhydrous ammonia leak at the arena. Upon arrival, they found a citizen performing CPR on one individual who was immediately relocated and put in the care of the BC Ambulance Service. Upon entering the building for an interior search, crews found two additional victims deceased and had to exit the building due to the hazardous environment. The scene was secured and the preliminary evacuation order issued until the leak can be contained.

“Information will continue to be provided as it becomes available and the first step in that process will be when crews are able to access the building and fully assess the scene,” adds Rhodes. WorkSafe BC, the Hazardous Materials Team from Calgary, Ministry of Environment and Interior Health are all in Fernie working with our Emergency Response Team and City staff to develop a plan to gain safe entry.

“I would like to thank our First Responders and the entire Emergency Response Team for their efforts in dealing with this extraordinary situation,” adds Giuliano. “The professionalism and coordination between City forces (particularly Fernie Fire Rescue), the RCMP, Regional District and our Provincial resources, to ensure all the steps necessary were taken to respond to this extremely dangerous situation has been outstanding.”

The latest news from the City of Fernie from the October 17th 11am press conference:

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