LOWVILLE — A break in the main water line in front of Lewis County Health System on North State Street/State Route 26 caused a section of the road to be closed all day on Wednesday and triggered a coordinated emergency response.
Before village Department of Public Works Superintendent Paul Denise and his team could begin repairing the damage, however, they had to work to ensure the secondary water supply that runs down Number Three Road could successfully make it to the hospital.
At 8:15 a.m., minutes after the break, the water pressure at the health system’s main campus plummeted, triggering the “key senior leader” at the time, Chief Nursing Officer Marcy L. Teal, and Facilities Director Frank J. Pace, to create a “command center” and declare a “level 3” emergency to pinpoint and coordinate steps to continue providing care and services to patients while the water problem itself was addressed.
“There are only certain things that will initiate a command center opening and a disruption of water would be one of them,” said Lewis County Health’s Chief Operating Officer Gerald R. Cayer. “It’s a policy- and procedure- driven approach to managing a significant event and an impact on the water infrastructure coming into our facility would fall into that.”
Although the water supply was never completely cut off, the Lewis County Health system stated in an afternoon release that “sustained and appropriate water pressure was not maintained in the hospital, nursing home, clinics and dialysis center,” causing the hospital’s emergency room to be put on “diversion” just before 9 a.m.
From that time on, ambulances were sent to other area emergency departments by dispatchers.
“If we lose water for a period of time, we wouldn’t have a place to put them (if they needed to be admitted) so we would not be able to meet their needs, so we’re managing the people who are in-house first until we know the water supply is fine before we go off diversion,” Mr. Cayer said.
The hospital also took water conservation measures including suspending in-house laundry, setting up bottled drinking water stations and switching to paper and plastic materials for meal service to avoid the need to wash dishes.
The water system that feeds the hospital is designed so that there are two sources — the main line in the front that ruptured and a secondary source in the back of the hospital that is intended primarily in case of fire, Mr. Denise said, but also, as it was today, to be used as a backup supply.
Each line has a series of valves to direct the water where it needs to go.
In this case, Mr. Denise said the valve from the village’s water line under Number Three Road was open, but the valve inside the hospital couldn’t be opened so that the valve on Route 26 could be shut off completely because it “hadn’t been used for so long we would have had to (do a number of tests on the water coming through) and that would have taken 24 hours.”
When Mr. Denise and the village’s public works team were able to get the water flowing from the Number Three Road water line to combine with the main line water that was still flowing, the appropriate pressure for water in the facility was restored at about 1 p.m., although the main line was not yet repaired.
By about 3 p.m., however, the work crew was able to “work hot” on the line — which means making the repair with water still flowing through — and complete the repair by using an industrial “cuff” that sealed the leak, the superintendent said.
The Emergency Department reopened to ambulances at about 3:30 p.m.
Mr. Denise said the rupture happened after the village crew had to close a valve that controlled the water flow to a hydrant in front of the hospital they intended to “cut and cap” so that it could be relocated as part of the ongoing construction project at the healthcare facility.
“We shut them off real slow, but it puts a lot of stress on the system ... once you have that closed, it builds up a lot of pressure in the pipes,” he said, adding that there could have already been some sort of crack or weakened area that normally happens as the ground shifts around the pipes over time.
To support the village, county board Chairman Lawrence L. Dolhof had also declared a state of emergency for the county to trigger the assistance of the county Emergency Services Department.
Mr. Cayer and Mr. Denise said the cooperation between the state, county, village and hospital personnel averted what could have been a much larger problem.
As part of the Health System’s ongoing construction project, a new water line will be run in front of the hospital that will eliminate the valve that wasn’t working and the likeliness the facility will have this problem again, Mr. Denise said.
A 6.5-mile stretch of state Route 26 was closed to commercial traffic and three miles were off limits to local traffic beginning at about 10:15 a.m., with a wide, signed detour created by the DOT from using state routes 410, 126 and 812, although the most direct route into the village was to use East Road.
Lewis County Fair volunteer Paul R. Platz said that while the number of people in attendance dropped during the second day of the fair, he believed it was more because of the temperatures — which had reached the low 90s — that had also caused two people suffering from heat stroke to be treated by emergency medical services.