May 13 2014, Kitchener P1, P3, R1, Haz Mat 1, A2, and Car 23 were dispatched to 321 Courtland Ave E for an ammonia leak in the office tower. P1 arrived on-scene and reported evacuation of the building and a light odor of ammonia in the air. Command requested police and had P3 block the road at Borden, and A2 blocked the road at Kent.
Command conferred with the plant manager and safety coordinator who reported they had just turned on the office air conditioning system at 11:25 and they smelled ammonia in the office minutes later. The in-house emergency team was paged and two members went to roof in Level 1 Haz Mat suits. They determined the system had a leak at one of the valves and the system needed to be shut down.
P2 was added to the call at this time. Firefighters set up for full haz mat operations and command ordered the manufacturing side of the building evacuated. Five hundred employees were evacuated and staged on Kent Ave. Two firefighters entered the building with two plant personnel (full Level 1 suits) to assess the area and to do a primary search of the office building. Crews confirmed the office was evacuated and there was still a leak in the system.
The system is charged from a central boiler house at the rear of the plant. There is approximately 80,000 lbs of ammonia in the system. After consultation between command and plant staff, crews reentered the building and successfully closed a valve near the AC unit. This was a very warm humid day which necessitated rotating crews. Once the leak was stopped, the next plan was to clean up the ammonia and air out the office. The office tower had 400 ppm of ammonia, and the seventh floor was considerably higher where the unit was located. This scenario played out throughout the afternoon. KFD cleared the scene at 18:00.
As an aside to the call, I work in the office. I evacuated the building as soon as I knew the leak was getting stronger, a few minutes before the building was evacuated at 11:40. I went to the parking lot and turned on my FD radio. The parking lot was down wind of the office and I could still smell ammonia. I left the area and waited to see if the plant needed KFD for assistance. Our emergency team is very well trained in dealing with ammonia leaks. The plant has five floors (over a million square feet) and minor ammonia leaks are fixed quickly in-house without having to call KFD for help. Once KFD was called I headed upwind, back to the plant to drop off a cooler with Gatorade and water that I carry in my van. I then headed to the station to pick up our truck as I knew this was going to be a long afternoon. Six hours on-scene, we served 171 drinks, 20 burgers, 20 wraps, 47 snack items, and lots of freezies.
Gary Dinkel, Box 690 photo
Staging set up in court yard beside main entrance to building. Back up team ready to go in if needed. Gary Dinkel, Box 690 photo
Kitchener firefighters are in the blue suits. Gary Dinkel, Box 690 photo
Gary Dinkel, Box 690 photo