This was not supposed to happen. The sprinkler system was state of the art. Some very special people sought shelter under the system. They were the residents and their caregivers in memory care. Together they happily participated in a grand theater where time and place were no longer in sync with the rest of the world.
They took the evacuation of the building to motels in stride. The next morning at breakfast someone said, “We are on vacation.” And the play continued. “We are on vacation.” On the second day of being refugees, the play failed for several. “We are not going home to our apartments.”
I did not intend to write about the mechanics of the flood, but the result on the refugees becomes more pronounced as we start on our fourth week. Given the residents of the building, the flood should never have happened. It was totally unexpected given the care taken in construction, staffing, and training.
A dry sprinkler system is called for where the pipes may freeze. The pipes, filled with compressed air, are expected to freeze. The dry pipes are expected to be dry to make the system work.
But there is a catch: the pipe system leaks. A compressor and tank are connected to maintain the desired operational pressure. An air leakage of about 3% per hour is acceptable. Any moisture in the injected air accumulates in the system. This water vapor can produce ice crystals anywhere in the system that falls a few degrees below freezing.
Secondly, periodic checks of the system flood the pipes to determine that water will reach an inspection port at the far end of the system within one minute. This inspection water must be drained out, completely. The pipes must be installed to drain properly. Low point drains must be drained repeatedly until no water is found. I have found no mention of blowing the water out with dry air. The water must drain.
If it does not drain, it is available to collect into ice wherever a freezing temperature develops in the “dry” pipe system. Lots of ice produces an ice plug. An ice plug often does not rupture pipes. Two ice plugs forming some distance apart can rupture a pipe or dislodge a pipe coupling between the two ice plug locations. As the plugs grow toward each another, the pressure inside can exceed required maximums for pipe and for couplings.
This damage is not immediately evident. Any water that may leak will immediately freeze. After a good weather warm up, the ice will begin to melt. At some point water will again begin to flow. The compressed air pressure in the “dry” pipe system drops as the ice plug melts or moves to expose a break in the pipe to let the air out. Low air pressure triggers the sprinkler system to flood. (No water comes out of the sprinklers, as there is no hot fire to open them.) The fire alarm sounds (but there is no fire). The flow of water will soon become a gusher.
To the best of my knowledge the flow rate was over 1,000 gal/min for over 15 minutes. The rush of water tore out walls. Ceilings fell. Just 15,000 gallons of water can cover 12,000 square feet with two inches of water. Umbrellas were used to quickly and safely evacuate residents. The drills no one expected to use were now real. The impossible was now happening.
As I am writing this, two Provision Living caregivers brought my wife to our two-bed skilled nursing room. They confirmed that new behaviors have developed. None of them are for the better. They also agreed with me that it will be interesting to see to what extent they continue when we return to Provision Living at Columbia. (Loading waste baskets in the motel with everything lose in our room for just two days continues here in the skill-nursing location.)
Old behaviors have intensified. Just now a lady in a wheel chair called in the door that my wife had held her so tightly as to bruise her arm. (Now what Maggie wants, Maggie gets.) And again if anything is missing, Maggie has it. For the past few days I have not been writing, as I have been full time watching my wife as well as at times other residents so the caretakers can work individually with other refugees.
And we still have two to four weeks before this natural experiment ends. The facilities in skilled nursing are in no way comparable to those in memory care. The caregivers in both groups are working hard to bridge the gaps. Tonight we have another weekend ice storm continuing. (More double sifts and employee cars in jeopardy.) I am afraid we are all getting tired.