Lexington firefighters, plumbers respond to calls for help with damaged pipes

Georgetown Middle School's media center lost books and possibly computers when a sprinkler head burst.
Georgetown Middle School's media center lost books and possibly computers when a sprinkler head burst. Lexington Herald-Leader

Thirteen-hour work days have been routine this week for Daniel Flynn, a plumber for a Lexington rental company.

Flynn was visiting Day's Plumbing Supply for the second time Wednesday on a quest for parts to fix broken pipes.

"I'm finding the leaks and I'm fixing them," Flynn said while standing in line for pipe insulation. "People live in there. We can't leave them without water — they need it."

Flynn's biggest project is a home on Rand Avenue. He said pipes burst in a small crawl space beneath the house. He figures he'll have to install all new plumbing.

The polar vortex that stretched across the Midwest resulting in freezing temperatures has left an untold number of Central Kentucky homeowners, schools, businesses, plumbers and public safety agencies extremely busy dealing with the effects of broken pipes and water leaks.

A minor plumbing problem at Lafayette High School caused an evacuation for about 10 minutes. But schools in Garrard and Scott counties suffered major plumbing problems requiring schools to close.

Pipes burst overnight at Eastern Elementary School, and some sprinkler heads burst at Georgetown Middle School. Damage to several classrooms at Eastern Elementary and the Georgetown Middle media center, as well as "other weather-related facility concerns," prompted the closing, according to a statement.

Eric Farber, manager of Outback Steakhouse on Tiverton Way in Lexington, said the restaurant's sprinkler system burst, leaving about 3 inches of water in the dining and takeout areas. Farber said the water is shut off, but the restaurant will operate during normal business hours.

Similar issues kept Lexington firefighters running to calls for most of the day Wednesday.

By Wednesday evening, Lexington firefighters had answered at least 107 calls from various parts of town over two days concerning leaks from thawing water pipes. That total was expected to increase into the night, and it could rise with the temperatures over the next few days, Maj. Mark Harvey said.

"We're probably going to be seeing this (Wednesday), (Thursday) and on into Friday," Harvey said.

Leaking pipes are a common problem immediately after a spell of extremely cold weather, firefighters said.

Water pipes often crack during deep cold, but they might not leak immediately because the water is frozen, Battalion Chief Joe Best said. The leaks are discovered as temperatures rise and pipes thaw, he said.

Leaks can cause serious damage, particularly if water runs undiscovered for extended periods.

Best said Wednesday afternoon that the fire department assigned two pickup trucks, with two firefighters each, to answer calls about leaking water pipes. He said the move is to free up department crews to concentrate on fire alarms.

Leaking pipes typically are handled by private plumbing companies, but firefighters can respond in emergencies to turn off the water, Best said. Firefighters don't make repairs or clean up.

"We don't go to all of them," Best said. "Mainly we just go to the ones where there may be water leaking into an electrical box or creating a hazard of some other kind."

Plumbers and homeowners flooded Day's Plumbing Supply on East Second Street in downtown Lexington, said Lisa Anderson, who works in customer accounts.

A lot of homeowners have been in the store "because they can't get a hold of plumbers," she said. "Plumbers are usually easy to get ahold of, but they're just overwhelmed."

Danielle Gage hasn't had water since Tuesday afternoon because the pipes burst in her laundry room.

Gage, 28, said her fiancè woke her up about 3 a.m. when the bathroom and laundry room on the first floor of their two-story home on Ellemoor Lane in Lexington flooded.

"There was about 2 inches of water," Gage said. "The water destroyed our baseboards. I'll probably have to repaint."

Gage's was one of more than 100 calls that Bill Gorman of Gorman's Plumbing has received since Monday.

"Our calls have increased by five times," Gorman said.

He said Gage is rather lucky.

"If she wasn't home it would've flooded her whole first floor," Gorman said. "It's usually basements and crawl spaces. Repairs can cost between $100 to $25,000."

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