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Plumbers, fire personnel, animal shelter feel brunt of cold weather snap

January 8th, 2014 8:20 pm by Jennifer Sprouse

Plumbers, fire personnel, animal shelter feel brunt of cold weather snap

The sidewalk outside of the old J.C. Penney building in downtown Johnson City was still frozen Wednesday after a pipe in the sprinkler system broke and flooded the front window and basement Tuesday night. (Tony Duncan/ Johnson City Press)

Chad Mitchell, division manager for Joseph Construction Co., doesn’t foresee his work slowing down anytime soon.

Having already tended to a busted sprinkler system at the Asbury Center at Baysmont nursing home in Kingsport Tuesday night, Mitchell and his crew were at it again around noon Wednesday working to fix a broken water pipe in a home in The Ridges subdivision.

And his team still had around 10 more home and business calls left to do before they could all go home for the day.

“Since probably Tuesday, I’ve had probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 phone calls,” Mitchell said. 

Joseph Construction, located at 3760 W. Market St. in Johnson City, is what Mitchell calls a “one-stop shop,” where they go into homes and businesses and clean up damage, dry out the space and demolish and reconstruct the affected area if necessary.

So it’s not hard to believe that as pipes were reportedly bursting in the region due to the below-zero temperatures that plumbing businesses, like Joseph Construction, saw an increase in customer calls.

“We do it all,” he said. “I have a crew with me. We’ve got a couple of trucks for water extraction, where we do water extraction out of carpet and we set fans and dehumidifiers, move furniture and that kind of stuff until we can get it dry. We have a lot of subcontractors that we use in these situations that we call out, but unfortunately with that many calls, you only have so much drying equipment at your disposal and renting it a lot of times is not even an option. Unfortunately, you have to turn people away or just put them on a waiting list.”

Mitchell said so far the extent of the damage his crews have encountered has been frozen or bursted water pipes and flooding in homes that has resulted in severe damage to the sheet rock and flooring.

At the Pizza Plus in Jonesborough, he said the restaurant’s meter froze over due to the extreme cold, as other problems around town resulted from poor insulation in homes and buildings.

While he said fixing broken water pipes is not unusual for this time of year, the severe cold increased problems for area residents.

“During the wintertime you still have these problems, they’re just not as severe as what it has been lately because of the cold weather,” Mitchell said. “It’s just something that you can always expect in the wintertime, ... water damages and fires. Most of the time the fires out rule the water damages.”

On Tuesday night, one of the front windows of the old J.C. Penney building near Hands On! Regional Museum had a pipe break in the sprinkler system.

Kristine Carter, Hands On! marketing and membership manager, said a museum representative was notified of the broken pipe around 10 p.m. after their security system was triggered by the falling water and an alarm went off in the building.

She said Wednesday that city crews were working to get the water pumped out of the building’s basement and said that none of the exhibits in the museum were affected by the broken pipe.

East Tennessee State University’s Child Studies Center notified parents by text message about a broken water main near the facility just after 2 p.m. Wednesday and asked that children in the day care be picked up as the center would be closing early. The facility will remain closed today.

Some area residents reported frozen city water pipes in areas of town Tuesday night and Wednesday, which included the 2500 block of Park Avenue in the city. 

City water pipes were said to be part of the problem, as residents made numerous calls to the water department.

A city representative confirmed Wednesday afternoon that water service had been restored in that area, as crews continued to work on replacing waterlines around town. 

Caye Gasteiger, office manager for Gasteiger Plumbing, 1315 E. Oakland Ave., said the company’s four plumbers had been working tirelessly to respond to calls, as she stayed back at the office compiling a waiting list of customers needing assistance due to burst pipes and meters.

She said the largest amount of calls started coming in Tuesday, as well as Wednesday morning.

“(Tuesday) was worse,” Gasteiger said. “There must have been 30 calls. There’s probably, so far, 20 (Wednesday). It’s bad. It’s (frozen and broken water pipes) all over Johnson City and we’ve had calls from Elizabethton and Jonesborough and ... even further away.”

She said from the calls coming in it’s clear that major damage has been done because of the freezing temperatures. She said Gasteiger Plumbing still had numerous calls to make to homes and businesses.

“Every time they call, I keep saying ‘I’ve got you on the list, but keep calling,’ ” Gasteiger said. “We are so sorry if we haven’t responded quickly enough. For the rest of the week it’s going to be cleanup.”

She urged area residents to also keep running their hot water, along with the cold water, to prevent any more pipes from bursting.

Johnson City Fire Department Capt. Steve Weaver said “most of the calls that we’re getting are alarm systems in regard to freezing pipes, along with their sprinkler systems.”

According to JCFD call data, from 8 a.m. Tuesday to 3 p.m. Wednesday fire personnel responded to approximately 74 emergency calls.

Of 74 calls, 32 were for fire alarms and sprinkler activations and 27 were medical calls. The rest of the calls were for building and cooking fires, as well as calls for carbon monoxide or those that were canceled while personnel were en route.

Weaver said the fire department is responding to all calls, but said they’ve cut down on the number of fire engines and trucks that respond to each one.

“We call it our severe weather plan,” he said. “We came up with this primarily for lightning storms where we knew we were going to be responding on multiple alarms. Because of the cold, we knew that most of the time it’s going to be some type of either a nuisance or a false alarm.”

Some fires in Johnson City and Washington County were reportedly caused by wood stoves and wall heaters.

In regard to the heaters, Weaver said “they’re kicking on and people think they’ve got them cut all the way down that they’re not going to come on. Well, they have a thermostat in them that kicks on once the temperature gets down to a certain degree. Even if they think they’ve got it turned completely off, it’s still actually on. As long as they’re (wall heaters) in existence and they’re hooked up with these types of temperatures, we’re going to have fires.”

When giving advice for residents about heat sources, Weaver said to use the devices as they were originally intended.

“If they’re not designed for what you’re using it for, there’s a reason for that and it’s going to end up getting somebody hurt,” he said. 

Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs said the shelter received numerous calls from concerned citizens about animal welfare, and said animal control officers on Monday made around 40 calls around the community.

“The officers are carrying blankets and food in their trucks to cover anything (as far as the animal’s needs) that’s not covered,” Dobbs said. “Most of our calls have been weather related.”

She said state law says adequate food, water and shelter most be provided to an animal. 

“If they can’t get in out of the weather, we prefer them having bedding of some sort in the dog houses with them — either the cedar chips, pine chips, blanket or straw — so they can contain their body heat,” Dobbs said. “With the low temperatures below zero with the wind chill, that’s when ears and tails and pads can freeze and hypothermia can set in. They (can) get frostbite. We haven’t had any (animals) frozen or any (with) hypothermia or anything like that.”

Giving fresh water and food to animals during the extremely cold days Dobbs said was also essential to making sure the animals stay warm and keep their energy up while outside.

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