By Maddy Vitale
As temperatures increase from single digits to the 30s and 40s this week, the 15-plus inches of snow that blanketed the region is beginning to thaw out.
That means one thing: Water-related calls.
Fire Chief James Smith and the 62 firefighters in his department, have been working around the clock responding to calls for leaky, and even worse– broken pipes— gushing water through homes and businesses causing damage.
“In the last few days we have had 30 calls for water leaks and broken pipes. As the temperatures have risen after a frigid weekend, leaks have started coming,” Smith said.
The fire department partnered with the police department and water company to address the calls. If there is internal damage to the property, the fire department gets called out. If it is, for example, a broken or leaky ground sprinkler or outside shower, police respond. In addition to the water company, gas and electric companies are also notified when needed, Smith said.
One home had major external damage. A neighbor reported water damage on the outside of a home on the 2300 Block of Simpson Avenue. When firefighters arrived, the siding was buckled due to water pumping from a broken pipe. Firefighters went in and salvaged Christmas presents and other items for the homeowners who were away for New Year’s Eve, Smith said.
“The property was damaged greatly. We were able to protect and salvage their personal items and valuables,” Smith said. “We protected their property with tarps after moving it away from water.”
On Monday afternoon firefighters were called to a house on 34th Street and Asbury Avenue for a broken pipe.
Timothy Young was one of the firefighters on the scene for a broken pipe. Another firefighter turned off the water supply.
“The guys are out there battling all of the elements, the wind and the cold temperatures. They are doing a great job,” Smith said, adding that even though the temperatures are increasing, firefighters still have to walk through a foot of snow in some areas to get to the utilities.
And he has no doubt, more calls will be coming in.
“It’s supposed to be in the 40s and 50s later in the week. As the temperatures climb, pipes that remained frozen will crack and burst,” Smith said. “Our guys ran out to a number of calls today and I definitely expect more as the days go on.”
Smith offered some tips for property owners.
If you experience water damage, call your insurance company right away. If you haven’t had a leak, be prepared with all of your paperwork in case you do.
If you are a seasonal resident, give a key to someone you trust to check on your property, daily, if possible. Even if you are at the residence a couple of days a week, there could be a big freeze. and a problem that you are unaware of. Keep the thermostat above 60. Although some experts say to keep your home at 55 degrees to prevent freezing, Smith opts for the higher temperature, to be on the safe side. Take photos of your belongings, so if damaged, you would have a record of the items for insurance reimbursement.
It is hard to say how this herculean storm will shape up for the fire department when it comes to water-related calls, Smith said. But in February of 2015, firefighters responded to 145 water-related calls in just a week. However, that was prior to the change in response, in which police handle external water leaks.
“We will have a better handle on this as the days go on,” Smith said. “We are 24/7, that doesn’t change.”
If your pipes burst, first turn off the water at the source. In Ocean City, you can call the non-emergency police number at 609-399-9111 to have Fire Department personnel dispatched to cut off the water supply leading to your home. Cut off electricity to any area of the house damaged by water.