By LeRae Haynes
A recently released report from the City of Williams Lake states that their first priority is safety when it comes to the Cariboo Memorial Complex, and that they have complied thoroughly with recommendations from the Canadian Lifesaving Society in regards to the ‘chlorine incident’ at the pool on February 26. Blue Fins Swim team coach Marilyn Haines stated this morning that she was ‘very angry’ when she saw the City’s release.
The City’s report states that they requested the Lifesaving Society to investigate the incident. “This report confirms that Complex staff and first responders responded professionally and effectively during the incident,” Mayor Kerry Cook is quoted in the report. “We also want to recognize that the Lifesaving Society found that the swim club and hockey team volunteers performed admirably. Our first priority at the Complex has always been safety, and we never stop looking for ways to improve it.”
The Blue Fins Swim Team was hosting a swim meet in February when a release of chlorine gas sent approximately 70 people, including 41 young swimmers from Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George to the hospital.
“Mayor Kerry Cook is good at saying how well everyone worked together but has never acknowledged the long-term impact of this incident,” Coach Haines states.
She said that no lifeguard or parent got out of the water before all the children were extracted, and that many are still suffering from exposure to the heavy chlorine gas leak and very concerned about their long-term health.
“I’m still very affected by it, as are some of the Quesnel parents and swimmers, as well as local lifeguards,” she said.
She explained that at a swim meet in Kamloops in June a young Quesnel swimmer who experienced the ‘chlorine incident’ in Williams Lake in February, had to get out of the water halfway through her breast stroke finals because she couldn’t breathe.
“For any of these kids who get a cold, now there is a very good chance that it will go straight to their chest, until they are completely healed,” she said.
Marilyn ended up quite sick the day of the incident, but wasn’t interested in staying in the hospital. “The doctor gave me a detailed list of what to watch for, and my background in first aid gave me confidence, but I knew I was in trouble,” she explained.
“I recently drove to provincials with a couple of kids in my vehicle, and began to feel myself starting to get a fever, and my throat and chest getting inflamed. The next day, walking across a parking lot to the prelims, I got dizzy and feverish and had to go to a walk-in clinic. When the doctor heard the story he gave me a ‘puffer’ and antibiotics and told me to stay away from big crowds,” she continued. “I ended up with a secondary infection.”
One result of the ‘chlorine incident’ is that five Quesnel families and seven Prince George families are suing the City of Williams Lake in a class-action suit, Marilyn noted. “The City is going to pay,” she said. “For us and for the lifeguards, though, we are living with long-term effects and have no recourse other than loss of wages.”
Questions from the public on this issue have included queries about the ‘faulty’ regulator from the chlorine system that was sent out for testing. It has been suggested that the chlorine gas may not have been turned off at all before the refilling, and that a heavy build-up in the lines may have resulted in all the gas being pushed out at once.
Marilyn said that she’s still dealing with puffers. “Some days I feel better, but one day of smoky skies and I’m set back a few notches. I am a runner and I train for triathlons, but there is no way I can do that now,” she added.
“WCB covers my prescriptions, but there is no compensation for loss of quality of life.”
This is the press release sent to local media from the City of Williams Lake on July 16, 2012:
Lifesaving Society report confirms staff and first responders minimized harm during chlorine incident
An investigative report into the Feb. 26 chlorine incident at the Sam Ketcham Pool by the Lifesaving Society has found that the harmful effects of the incident were minimized by coordinated efforts of facility staff, those associated with swim and hockey teams, and first responders.
The City requested that the Society investigate the incident and to make recommendations to help identify issues and prevent a similar incident in the future. The Lifesaving Society made several procedural recommendations, most of which the City had already implemented following the incident.
Suggestions include reviewing evacuation plans, improved liaison and planning between facility staff/management and other emergency agencies in the community along with a review and revision of post-incident procedures.
“This report confirms that Complex staff, and first responders responded professionally and effectively during the incident,” says Mayor Kerry Cook. “We also want to recognize that the Lifesaving Society found that swim club and hockey team volunteers performed admirably. Our first priority at the Complex has always been safety, and we never stop looking for ways to improve it. As such, the Lifesaving Society recommendations are being fully implemented to help prevent similar incidents from occurring.”
A liquid chlorine system was installed in the Sam Ketcham Pool in March, and there is no chlorine gas remaining on the Complex site.
The Lifesaving Society (also known as Royal Life Saving Society Canada) is a not for profit organization that responds to requests for an expert opinion in a strictly unbiased, non partisan manner in order to further the goal of reducing drowning and aquatic-related injury.
The Society is the recognized authority in Canada in aquatic safety, lifesaving and lifeguarding standards.
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