Ice arena gas leak detection now best-in-class

One of the less visible realities of the indoor ice arenas that so many citizens enjoy year-round is that they absolutely must use a variety of gases to keep ice frozen and to power Zambonis.

“Another reality,” says Chris Johnson, the City of Edmonton’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, “is that compressors and pipes sometimes fail.”

Gas leaks don’t happen often, he notes, but when they do, citizens can now rest assured that the upgraded gas detection and warning systems that the City has just finished installing in our 21 arenas are state-of-the-art.

“We’ve created a new standard for our system that delivers the maximum possible level of safety. It exceeds the Building Code.”

Arenas use ammonia or freon to keep glycol or brine solution circulating under the ice to keep it frozen. They use natural gas to power Zambonis, and even though natural gas emits very low levels of carbon monoxide, alarm systems have to be sensitive to that gas in case a malfunction is causing higher-than-acceptable carbon monoxide emissions.

All of those gases, in varying concentrations, can be harmful or even fatal.

Before conversion to the new warning system, City arenas all had some sort of detection and warning system, but there was no standardization. Small differences in how each building’s system operated posed a problem for staff who often move from one building to another depending on scheduling of public use.

“If staff were used to alarms in one building, they might not have even noticed an alarm in another arena,” says electrician Ryan Schiewe, who managed the project. “Now the system is standardized across the City.”

And quality of sensor also varied from building to building.

“In the conversion project, we used the very best quality sensors, and we put a great deal of thought into the exact placement in the building of sensors for each individual gas,” says Ryan.

Ammonia and carbon monoxide sensors are chest height, the level at which gas would be breathed in during a leak. Natural gas and Freon sensors are located higher up in the building since they are lighter than air. When a sensor detects even a small amount of a gas in the air, it sets off a flashing light, colour-coded to the specific gas. That alerts staff that there could be an issue.

Warning lights and alarms sound when any one of three gases is detected by sensitive equipment throughout the arenas.

Warning lights and alarms sound when any one of three gases is detected by sensitive equipment throughout the arenas.

If a higher level is detected, the coloured light flashes and a loud audio alarm sounds. That’s when staff evacuate the building and the appropriate City workers are called to investigate the leak. For higher-risk gases such as ammonia, an automated call is placed to Fire Rescue Services.

“And in our newer buildings, which have sophisticated computerized building control systems, alarms are wired right into exhaust fans, which turn on automatically,” says Ryan.

Arena staff have all been trained in the alarm systems, and provided with emergency phone numbers and emergency procedures for each hazardous gas and evacuations.

This model of gas detection installations is already being installed in some Fleet Services Branch garages.

The next phase of the sensor improvement and standardization will see it taken to City pools for chlorine detection.

The conversion of all City of Edmonton arenas’ gas detection systems was a project managed by team lead, electrician Ryan Schiewe.

The conversion of all City of Edmonton arenas’ gas detection systems was a project managed by team lead, electrician Ryan Schiewe.

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