Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ammonia Use and Safety in Calgary

On October 19, 2017 three people were killed following an ammonia leak at an ice arena in Fernie, British Columbia. This tragedy gave rise to some questions from the public and news stories emerged in Calgary on November 6, 2017 that sought to investigate the relative safety of Calgarians, especially those living next to large facilities that utilize ammonia as central to ice rink operations.

The City of Calgary operates facilities with refrigeration equipment with safety as the top priority. The City operates 12 arenas using ammonia. All City of Calgary arena staff are trained in best practices in working with refrigeration systems, preventative maintenance and emergency procedures. In the unlikely event of an ammonia leak, City of Calgary facilities are equipped with a multi-alarm system which is triggered when ammonia levels rise above normal.

In terms of overall safety, the Calgary Fire Department is actively involved with ammonia safety planning, prevention and has a dedicated Hazardous Materials Response Team of trained firefighters that can respond at any time to mitigate the situation.

According to Calgary Fire Department incident data, the overall incident trend on ammonia within Calgary has been a decreasing one with 12 of 20 incidents occurring 2012-2013, with two per year 2014-2016 and one incident in 2017 to date. Most were refrigeration issues at commercial or industrial facilities. There have been 3 incidents in the past 5 years in Calgary relating to ice rinks specifically, none involving casualties.

Apart from its own facilities, The City of Calgary does not manage, regulate or inventory ammonia at the sites where it is used: ammonia is not a municipal responsibility but is provincially and federally regulated. Notwithstanding, The City undertakes significant efforts on multiple fronts to ensure public safety, evidenced in part by the decreasing trend in ammonia incidents within Calgary.

The use and operation of ammonia is provincially and federally regulated and enforced. The City of Calgary operates facilities with refrigeration equipment with safety as the top priority. This includes working with all ammonia owners and operators by assisting with emergency response, prevention and planning on an ongoing basis. 

What are these safety measures?

Safety is our number one priority at all City of Calgary facilities. As part of our safety procedures, our staff monitor and conduct daily ammonia level checks as part of their duties. In addition, our staff also conduct regular safety drills. The City of Calgary also has emergency response plans in place for a variety of scenarios, including an ammonia leak.

Apart from its own facilities, The City of Calgary is not mandated to regulate or inventory ammonia at private sites. However, through working with the province and other regulatory and safety partners, the Calgary Fire Department helps ensure public safety on ammonia in three specific areas:
  • fire safety plans with building owners, including site visits and on-site training in collaboration with operators. 
  • inspections to comply with Alberta Fire Code. 
  • hazardous materials emergency response, as needed. 

What happens if there is a leak?

All City of Calgary arena staff are trained in best practices in working with refrigeration systems, preventative maintenance and emergency procedures. As part of our safety procedures, City facilities staff conduct daily ammonia level checks as part of their duties. In addition, staff also conduct regular safety drills. In the unlikely event of an ammonia leak, The City of Calgary facilities are equipped with a multi-alarm system which is triggered when ammonia levels rise above normal.

Have there been any leaks at these City-owned facilities in the past?

Yes, there have been three minor incidents in the past five years in Calgary relating to ice rinks specifically, none involved casualties. One of these three incidents occurred in July 2015 when an alarm indicated an elevated level of ammonia in the compressor room at Rose Kohn Arena. This was caused by a small release of gas. The City staff member followed safety procedures by shutting down the compressors. The emergency ventilation system was then turned on. As a safety precaution, our City staff member evacuated the few people in the arena. There were no injuries to citizens as a result of this incident.

What about ammonia at other facilities in Calgary?

It is expected that all building owners and operators follow safe handling and storage procedures, as per provincial and federal guidelines and regulations. Calgary Fire actively works with ammonia operators as part of its Fire Safety Plan program to assist with operator emergency response plans, which will often involve a site visit involving crews operating at the nearest local fire station as well as Calgary Fire’s Hazardous Materials Response Team. This promotes familiarization and helps the facility operators to understand why the information is important, and they can meet and work with their first responders. These plans also include other chemical storage or use information.

Why doesn’t The City track or enforce ammonia as a hazardous substance?

As a municipal body, The City of Calgary is not empowered to govern hazardous materials. The operation of ammonia refrigeration plants is regulated provincially by Municipal Affairs under the code “Pressure Equipment Safety Regulations” and more generally by Alberta Environment for larger installations. Design and operation of refrigeration plants is also regulated by Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard. And above a specific quantity threshold, Environment Canada E2 Regulations prescribe detailed response plans. In effect, there are several layers of provincial and federal regulations for the operation of ammonia refrigeration plants. As a municipal organization, the Calgary Fire Department is not a regulator of controlled chemicals and products, so while we have awareness of where product is, we do not keep an inventory count of ammonia at industrial and facility sites in Calgary.

Is there an ammonia safety problem in Calgary?

Although the Calgary Fire Department cannot regulate the use or track inventory of ammonia in private facilities, calls responding to ammonia leaks are tracked. The overall incident trend on ammonia within Calgary has decreased with 12 of 20 reported leaks happening in 2012 and 2013, with two per year 2014-2016 and one incident in 2017 to date. Most were refrigeration issues at commercial or industrial facilities. None of these leaks involved casualties.

If I have questions related to a privately-owned ammonia operator, where can I find more information?

Any questions about those facilities must be directed to the respective facility. However, in accordance with the Emergency Management Act, The City of Calgary does not support reporting specifics on hazardous material volume or location. The Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) supports the restricted circulation of such information pertaining to where ammonia is stored, and the volumes at that site, due to security issues.

If you have any questions about City of Calgary facilities, please call 311.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Improvements to 1 Street S.W. celebrated

Victoria Park BIA Executive Director David Low
Even though winter has now arrived in Calgary, David Low, Victoria Park Business Improvement Area’s Executive Director, is still eager to get out on his daily walking tours. These days he seems to be more energized than ever after his walks.

That’s because the project to improve the streetscape along the Beltline’s 1 Street S.W. corridor between 10 Avenue to 17 Avenue S.W. is now substantially complete.

Low says the City of Calgary has done an outstanding job of improving the streetscape and in connecting with the businesses and property owners along this corridor. “I’ve appreciated how the project team put such emphasis in working with all the stakeholders while working hard to complete these improvements over the past six months.”

The City and Victoria Park BIA will jointly celebrate this important milestone on Thursday, Nov. 9 as City and BIA representatives plan to distribute cookies at the corner of 1 Street and 13 Avenue S.W. starting at 4 p.m.

On Friday, Nov. 10 an ‘experiential’ lighting demonstration will be held on 1 Street between 12 and 13 Avenues from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. We’d like to hear your feedback about how these state-of-the-art colour changing lights add to the streetscape atmosphere.

Improvements to the corridor include:
  • wider sidewalks & prominent crosswalks
  • upgraded LED pedestrian and street lighting
  • 41 new tree plantings
  • additional bike racks & 14 new on-street parking spaces
  • centre median with a banner pageantry program.
“These improvements build on the character of the blocks located between 12 and 14 Avenues, extending that streetscape design along the full length of the corridor,” said Graham Gerylo, Urban Strategy project manager with the City. “This work has created a safer, more comfortable and inviting environment for the thousands of pedestrians and transit riders that travel along 1 Street each day.”

New banners along 1 Street SW
The City accelerated capital funding for this project as part of the City’s economic stimulus efforts. Final project costs are estimated to be around $5 million, which is more than $1 million under the original budget estimate. Both Gerylo and Low agree that the project is an investment in the street and local economy with the goal of continued community revitalization by attracting private developments, new businesses and more residents to the area.

For more details on the project, visit

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Historic City Hall wrap: protecting workers and the building from the elements

As the temperatures plunge in Calgary this winter, the heritage rehabilitation of Historic City Hall continues full force ahead, regardless of ice, snow or sleet.

What is the purpose of the enclosure around Historic City Hall?

In May, 2017, the building was enclosed in a standard protective covering that contains the construction crew, equipment and materials. The enclosure provides overall project cost avoidances and plays a key role in the fulfillment of project timelines as the heavy duty wrap shields the workers from outdoor elements and keeps in heat, allowing us to work year round regardless of weather. In addition, this enclosure – which allows no water penetration – is vital in helping to protect the sandstone and exposed building components from the weather.

Inside the wrap, the crew working on Historic City Hall will remain warm throughout the winter. In order to ensure that building components don’t freeze – and that our mortar cures properly – the temperature inside the wrap is a minimum of 10 degrees Celsius, rising to about 20 degrees in the upper floors.

By protecting the workers and building from outdoor elements like snow, rain and extreme heat, we are able to work year round and avoid costly weather-related project delays. As well, enveloping the entire building at once as opposed to covering individual portions as work progresses is far more cost effective. The cost of the enclosure in its entirety – including materials, printing, and installation – was approximately $165,000 or $5.16 per square foot. This equals about $55 per day over the remaining three years that it will be in use.

Why is there imagery on the enclosure?

Imagery on protective enclosures is an industry standard for long term heritage rehabilitation projects, particularly when a building will be hidden from public view for years. Because Historic City Hall will literally be “under wraps” until 2020, we thought it fitting to use imagery that replicates the original appearance of City Hall. Given the Canada 150 celebrations that took place on Olympic Plaza and the Municipal Plaza this year, the imagery is also a fitting tribute to Canada’s historic anniversary.

Where else have they used images like this on historic buildings?

Examples of other heritage projects that are using or have used imagery on enclosures include: the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol Building and the U.S. Supreme Court Building (all in Washington D.C). This interesting article in Smithsonian Magazine describes some of those facades. New York’s Plaza Hotel had imagery on its enclosure during its renovations as did New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. Like Calgary’s Historic City Hall, the Sydney Town Hall in Australia had a similar imaged fa├žade during its heritage rehabilitation. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is another good example of imagery used during a historical restoration.

Both the scaffolding and the enclosure surrounding it are expected to remain in place until February, 2020, near the planned project conclusion of July, 2020. Please visit for project updates and historic photos and stories of Historic City Hall. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Canada Task Force 2 returns from full-scale training exercise in Virginia

The Calgary Emergency Management Agency’s Canada Task Force 2 (CAN-TF2) disaster response team recently returned from participating in a full-scale heavy urban search and rescue (HUSAR) exercise with one of the leading disaster response teams in the United States, Virginia Task Force 1. CAN-TF2 members trained from Oct. 23-26 mentored by an elite and experienced international team, to further build its HUSAR expertise and capability to respond to a simulated earthquake in Nepal.

A contingent of 74 volunteer members, including all heavy urban search and rescue specialties and members of the Incident Management Team, received incredible hands-on training in a variety of roles and scenarios using field facilities in Fairfax County, Virginia.  This experience was a unique and rare opportunity to learn from highly skilled teams, utilize state of the art training facilities, and work through complex HUSAR incidents. Scenarios were realistic, challenging and resulted in many lessons for future operations. 

“We are so grateful to our funding partners to make training opportunities like this possible, keeping members trained to international standards and at the ready to help others when the call comes in,” says Tom Sampson, Chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.

The associated expenses were funded by the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, Public Safety Canada and the Kinsmen Club of the Stampede City.

For more information, visit the CANTF2 webpage.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New City Council is sworn in

The new Calgary City Council was sworn in on October 23, 2017. The Swearing-in Ceremony took place in the Municipal Building Atrium and the newly elected Council was led in by a bagpipe-led procession.

Fifteen members of council were sworn in, including four newcomers, Jyoti Gondek (Ward 3), George Chahal (Ward 5), Jeff Davison (Ward 6), and Jeromy Farkas (Ward 11). Following the ceremony, an official photo of the new Calgary Council was taken on the atrium steps. Mayor Nenshi addressed the public following the ceremony; you can watch the full address below.