Ammonia leak forces ice rink closure
A leak in a refrigerant line at the Eagle ice rink closed the facility the afternoon of Feb. 6 and prompted a multi-agency response to a potentially dangerous hazardous material release.
Automatic sensors detected a release of anhydrous ammonia from one of the rink’s refrigerant compressors just after noon on Feb. 6. The sensor sounded an alarm in the building, and sent a 911 to the Vail Dispatch Center. Anhydrous ammonia is used as both an agricultural fertilizer and a refrigerant. According to the National Safety Council, exposure to the substance can result in severe burns to eyes, skin and the respiratory tract.
Scott Ruff of the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District said just three people, all WECMRD employees, were in the building when the alarm sounded, and those people all got out safely.
Eagle Police, the Western Eagle County Ambulance District and the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District responded. The Gypsum Fire Department also responded, as did the Eagle River and Vail Fire Departments. The latter two agencies were covering Eagle and Gypsum as part of the departments’ “automatic aid” agreement.
Eagle River sent a truck and crew to cover the Eagle-Gypsum area, and a Vail crew was available to cover any emergencies in the Eagle River district.
Shortly after the initial alarm sounded, the Eagle County Emergency Management team was on hand, as was the Regional Hazardous Material Association of Eagle County, a group made up of representatives from all the valley’s emergency service agencies.
A pair of two-man crews from Eagle fire were outfitted in “level A” hazardous materials suits and went into the building one crew at a time. The first crew did a sweep of the building to ensure no one was still in the facility. The second crew went into the refrigerant room to turn off the leaking compressor. In all, about 10 gallons of anhydrous ammonia escaped into the building.
After the leak was stopped and the building ventilated, the building was open to the public again before 5 p.m., said Ruff. A repair crew from Denver had the compressor operating again by the end of the day, he added. The cause of the leak was eventually traced to a faulty nipple fitting in the system.
Greater Eagle Fire Chief Jon Asper said the safety and maintenance systems at the rink – owned by the Town of Eagle and operated by WECMRD – made the job of emergency crews easier. “Their level of preparedness was just superb,” said Asper.
Asper added that the Feb. 6 incident was another example of the usefulness of the automatic aid agreements between the valley’s four fire departments. “There was never a time when Eagle and Gypsum were unprotected,” he said.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise