Water pipe calls keep city fire crews busy

PARKERSBURG – The Parkersburg Fire Department had a long, watery night on Wednesday, fielding 24 calls for broken water pipe emergencies in about 12 hours, officials said.

The arctic conditions resulted in frozen water pipes in residences and businesses across the city, said Parkersburg Fire Department Capt. Tim Flinn. This resulted in the department fielding more than 50 calls about broken water pipes from Tuesday evening through Thursday afternoon, Flinn said.

The 12-hour period from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning produced almost constant calls for help, Flinn said. During this time, about 24 calls came in from residents and business owners who had water spraying all over their buildings because of broken pipes, he said.

Business calls primarily dealt with broken water pipes in fire suppression and sprinkler systems that had not been properly insulated or inspected in recent years, Flinn said.

Private residence calls focused on pipes exposed to exterior walls or unprotected areas such as garages, Flinn said.

The fire department was primarily concerned with preventing injuries from electrocution and fire hazards that were caused by the water, Flinn said.

In all cases, attempts were made to protect property and belongings from additional damage by shutting off the water supply and using fire blankets to cover items that would otherwise be damaged, Flinn said.

“If you are suffering from frozen pipes, do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heaters, charcoal stove or other open flame device to thaw them,” Flinn said.

Open flame methods of heating commonly result in fires starting while attempting to thaw the pipes, he said. Flameless thawing methods such as heating pads and hair dryers should be chosen instead, he said.

Thawing frozen pipes should be taken seriously, with action required as soon as you suspect the freeze in order to prevent the pipe from breaking, Flinn said.

Turn on the faucet, and leave it on during the thawing process, Flinn said. If you can locate the frozen section of pipe, wrap an electric heating pad around it or use a hair dryer on it, he said.

If you cannot locate it, call a licensed plumber to find the problem and inspect the pipes before they thaw in order to prevent emergency situations, he said.

Water expands as it freezes. “Regardless of the strength of the container, even metal pipes, frozen water is strong enough to split it open,” Flinn said. This law of nature caused the pipe breakages in the valley, Flinn said. Before future cold snaps arrive, take action to prevent freeze-ups, Flinn said. Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to keep warm water around the pipes under sinks, Flinn said.

Allow water to drip from the cold water side of the faucet for exposed pipes to prevent the water from settling long enough to freeze, he said.

Insulating the exposed pipes in homes with a pipe sleeve or UL-listed heat tape, heat cable, or similar materials can prevent future freeze-ups, Flinn said.