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Hospital Flood

Thursday, December 24, 2009

by Tom Eggensperger, The Sanders County Ledger

"It sounded like something big being dragged across the roof," recalled Barry Fowler of Clark Fork Valley Hospital.

After a short while like in a cartoon, water started coming out of light fixtures and from under the walls.

The hospital's board of trustees who were meeting Wednesday afternoon had to evacuate and before long there was two inches of water on the floor and it was rising.

The unlikely loss of a threaded metal pipe cap, on the end of the fire suppression sprinkler system caused a one inch pressurized water line to deliver a steady flow of water above the double sheet rocked ceiling of the board room. Finding an impenetrable barrier, the water spread and found its way down the wall cavities and into other rooms in the administrative wing. That wing is located where the patient rooms of the old hospital building used to be.

After the first attempt as shutting off the sprinkler system flow, failed to do the job, Fowler said they had to shut off all the water in the hospital, an action that could have caused problems.

Now, nearly a week later, a crew is still drying walls and insulation and trying to get the rooms back into service.

Fowler said the situation was one of the worst he's ever seen.

Fortunately, though, help was just a phone call away. Fowler said they immediately called Captain Carpet of Thompson Falls, a company that specializes in water damage restoration. It was just what a doctor would prescribe. Doug Duffield and his crew were there within the hour and the rapid response kept the damage at the facility down to a minimum.

"We couldn't be more pleased with his professional approach to the challenge and the work he's doing to minimize the damage to the building and put us back in full operation as soon as possible," said Fowler.

Fowler said they don't know how or why the pipe cap came loose, but when it did, it was a remarkable sound.

Board members said the noise was so loud, it stopped the conversation and they sat there wondering what would happen next. It wasn't long before water started trickling out the light fixtures on the ceiling and they knew they had a major problem.

"Staff and board members gathered papers and scurried around trying to unplug electrical devices. We eventually evacuated the room, because someone thought the ceiling might collapse," said Bina Eggensperger a board member from Thompson Falls.

Duffield, on a tour of the damage Friday, showed how the main room below the pipe suffered the most damage. Because the roof was two layers of sheetrock, it pooled water which caused more water to be absorbed.

They removed those layers, and then removed sheetrock from the walls inside the room to check insulation and assess damage to the wall studs.

The room was ground zero for the flood and there was a lot of damage to insulation.

In the surrounding rooms, all but one were damaged significantly.

Fowler said he was amazed as how much equipment and specialized skills Duffield and his crew brought to the job.

A large propane heater blasted 200,000 BTUs of heat into the wing, which not only kept the rooms warm, but super heated as well, to help dry out wood, wall board, insulation and carpets. Then he had large dehumidifiers, which continually took moisture from the air.

Large vacuums suck up water from the carpet and the floors, a chore that took several hours.

Duffield then used sophisticated moisture meters, which could assess damage behind wallboard, and he went around the room marking wet areas, like a plastic surgeon ready for an operation.

Then with surgical skill, he bored small holes in the wallboard at the base of the damaged walls and then with small tubing connected to a large heater, he pumped 120 degree air into the wall cavities to speed the drying process and stop the growth of mold.

This week, said Fowler, the project was well on its way to making a full recovery, although he speculated it could be two to three weeks more before everything was back to normal.

Fortunately, he commented, insurance will pay for the damages and restoration.

Reflecting on the impact to the hospital operations, Fowler said surprisingly, they were well prepared for such an emergency. Because the fire suppression system was compromised, the fire alarms sounded. Then, by policy, until the system was up and running, the hospital had to have an individual constantly monitoring rooms and areas for fire for the next 24 hours. Fowler said hospital volunteers stepped up and helped out there.

While the entire water system was down for a while, they were able to isolate the problem area and had the main facility up and served fairly quickly. He said that meant they didn't have to bring in a new potable water supply.

The administration was affected most, Fowlers said they moved out of their rooms and into other buildings around the hospital, which briefly affected communications. Papers and documents were damaged in some of the administrative offices, and they will have to try and rehabilitate some of those, but for the most part, he said they had electronic records of everything.

None of the computer systems or electronic equipment suffered any damage, Fowlers observed, due to the quick action of the maintenance and housekeeping staff, who were in action as soon as the alarm sounded.

With no hint as to why the pipe cap came off, Fowler said it could have been related to the remodeling project of a few years ago, completed in conjunction with the new main hospital building. He said he was fairly certain the suppression system was tended during those activities.

He said the scariest part of the emergency was the water coming through lighting fixtures in the ceiling, but fortunately there were no shorts or fires from that disruption.

"I would say despite the disruption and damage, we came through all right," said Fowler. "The quick action of our staff, the outstanding service from Captain Carpet and the plans we had in place, minimized the disruption. And most importantly, no patient care was compromised."

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