Bitter cold leads to numerous reports of burst pipes, including at South Hadley police station

Last modified: Wednesday, January 08, 2014
Recent bitter cold temperatures in the region have led to numerous problems with burst pipes — the majority in vacant homes or apartments that have been left unheated, area fire departments reported.

The problems in occupied buildings include a frozen sprinkler pipe that burst Saturday morning and flooded six offices in the South Hadley police station, forcing several administrative employees into other parts of the building.

Deputy Northampton Fire Chief Timothy McQueston, said his department has received a dozen or more reports of burst pipes over the past several days, as temperatures have dipped below zero at times — “everything from private homes to mill buildings,” he said.

Most of the problems have occurred in areas such as building entryways and crawl spaces that receive less heat, McQueston said, or in homes “where someone has moved out or is not paying the heating bill.”

Expanding ice in frozen water pipes can cause extensive damage. None of the incidents reported in Northampton have resulted in injuries and most have been easily contained, McQueston said.

South Hadley firefighter Scott Walsh said his department had received a half dozen reports of burst pipes since the weekend.

“We’re on our third one today,” said Walsh, when reached at the town’s Fire District 1 Headquarters late Tuesday afternoon.

Most of the incidents occurred in private homes where pipes were not properly insulated, or in homes that were vacant or under construction, Walsh said. In a couple of instances, the Fire Department had to shut off power, as well as water, because flooding caused by broken pipes created an electrical hazard, Walsh said.

The pipe that burst at the town police station at 8:08 a.m. Saturday had frozen overnight, said Lt. Steve Parentela, who is among the staff members whose upstairs offices flooded. Parentela is now working at a computer on the first floor.

Parentela said city officials are working with contractors to assess the damage. Police service has not been disrupted, he added.

Other upstairs rooms that flooded are the office of Chief David LaBrie, the department secretary’s office and the communications room, LaBrie said. On the first floor, the shift supervisor’s office and the community room were flooded, and groups that normally meet in the community room are being referred to Town Hall for meeting spaces, he said.

Three desktop computers, including LaBrie’s, sustained water damage, but the main servers were not affected, LaBrie said. He and secretary Kimberly Ottomaniello are now working in the station’s downstairs conference room.

To avoid frozen pipes, Parentela advises residents against lowering their heat at night. He also advises homeowners to open cabinet doors that contain water pipes to let warmer air circulate, and to turn off water leading to outdoor plumbing fixtures.

McQueston of the Northampton Fire Department said keeping sink faucets on at a trickle can prevent pipes from bursting in cold weather. “But the downfall is the drain can ice up,” he warned.

The best time to address pipe safety is before the cold weather begins, McQueston said. “That’s when people should be checking areas of their houses and their pipes to be sure they’re insulated.”

Gazette staff writer Barbara Solow contributed to this report.