DECC Ammonia Leak Highlights Building’s Aging Equipment

Duluth Fire officials said their brand new Hazmat 31 rig and its state-of-the-art tech was integral in their response.

DULUTH, Minn.- The DECC’s public spaces were clear of ammonia and safe to enter Wednesday, after a major leak overnight. DECC officials say it’s the result of the convention center’s aging infrastructure that needs serious investment.

“Went through the lion’s share of the building with a reader to see if any of the ammonia smell was around anymore and the vast, vast, vast majority of the building is at 0,” said Dan Hartman, the DECC’s Executive Director.

The leak was discovered in the machine which cools Pioneer Hall and the Duluth Curling Club, and keeps the club’s ice frozen.

That machine was built in 1976. “This is a pretty common thing in ice-making facilities,” said the Executive Director.

Hartman said his engineers won’t be able to assess it for 5 days — but it could be the most expensive repair in a decade.

“We’re gonna have to get a new ice plant,” he said. “So, and that won’t be cheap or easy. So, but that’ll be something we’ll have to figure out in the future.”

To make do without the ice plant, the dog show scheduled for this weekend has been moved to the DECC arena, which is cooled by a separate unit.

The Fire Department got the call for help around seven Tuesday night.

After making sure the small amount of employees got out safely, crews began ventilating the room where the leak occurred and monitoring where the ammonia spread

“As we got closer to the spill, like, in the room that actually stores the chemical, we now have that all closed and taped off so basically a vapor seal for that immediate area,” said Asst. Fire Chief Dennis Edwards.

According to Edwards, while ammonia is extremely dangerous, it’s wide usage in common chemicals and its pungent recognizable smell makes it easier for people to detect, and leave swiftly.

“Even if you smell a little bit of the chemical, you don’t know if that’s the beginning of the leak. So it’s best to exit the structure or get upwind if it’s outdoor,” he said.

Tuesday was the first call DFD was able to break out their brand new Hazmat 31 rig, acquired just months ago.

Duluth is one of four agencies in the state, designed specifically for the department with state-of-the-art technology for monitoring hazardous materials.

“On the right you would’ve seen the chemical data of what we know is the problem,” said DFD Technical Services Coordinator, Capt. Rob Morehouse, “and then in the middle screen we had a camera that was up showing standard camera footage of the entry point that we were using the whole time.”

While responding to a dangerous situation, hazmat crews say it was a good first test of the more than $650,000 piece of equipment.

“It really gave all of our staff the opportunity to go through the rig, get the equipment out, employ everything that we’ve got and see it work,” Morehouse said. “It really gave all of our team members that were here yesterday trust in that their new product works.”

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