Water: most of the earth is covered by it, the human body is primarily composed of it, and code officials, fire departments and insurance underwriters love it. Without it, none of us could survive. In its three physical states (solid, liquid, vapor), water is one of the most useful substances and tools of our society.
So, when I tell you that I christened my building this past weekend, imagine the worst. Yes, we shared another first after almost four years together. We had our first sprinkler system rupture.
Looking back on my relationship with my building, we’ve shared many important milestones. Our first window leaks caused some concern. Our first power failure was educational. Our first nuisance fire alarms were pretty annoying. Our first accidental “test” of the data center “EPO” (emergency power off) button was pretty frightening. Our first accidental FM200 discharge was aggravating. By the time we got to our first skylight leak, it was pretty much expected.
Now I didn’t get pictures or video of this “Hallmark” moment, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget. For those of you who don’t manage a sprinkled building, please keep your guffaws to a minimum. I promise not to laugh at you because you pay more for property insurance or have more firewall restrictions under the new international building codes!
Let me give you the set up for the sprinkler incident. I spent about six hours at the office Saturday trying to repair my corrupt .pst file. You might be interested to know the critical file storing ALL YOUR STUFF in Microsoft Outlook will self-destruct if it gets too big (two Gigs, to be exact). If you want to prevent an experience like mine, please visit Microsoft’s online help Web site or call your friendly IT person…but I digress.
Anyway, I spent several hours running repair utilities, begging one of our IT gurus for suggestions, and trying to fix my damaged file. Like a good engineer, I tried the Inbox repair tool over and over, changing parameters slightly each time hoping to unlock the magic Microsoft fairies that would give me back my e-mail and calendar. Finally, after the fifth attempt I gave up and decided to head home. (Hey, maybe it would be cool to go without e-mail for a while!)
I was home less than an hour when my mobile phone rang. It was our general contractor, and he said, “Jeff, now don’t panic, but the drywall guys just busted a sprinkler head on the fourth floor. I’m on the way and will meet you over there.”
I don’t think I even had time to roll my eyes when I yelled to my wife that I had to run. Speeding toward the building, I mentally scanned our fire protection plans trying to remember where the isolation valves were located and in what order I should do what! At the same time, images of little men steering gondolas through a maze of gray cubicles toward little waterfalls cascading down the stairwells interrupted my virtual study of the sprinkler risers.
Before I arrived, the drywall foreman had miraculously found and turned off the proper isolation valve. I quickly killed power to the fire pump and ran upstairs to open the drain leg, taking the pressure off the system while two men on scaffolds held their hands around a 2″ pipe that had been violated by their self-tapping drywall screws. It was wet up there, but not too bad.
After realizing we were exactly two floors above the data center, we went down to check the floors below and gathered a mop, a shop vac, and some box fans. Fortunately, very little water made it down to the third floor, and we proceeded to clean up the mess. I also manually put the HVAC system in “occupied” for the rest of the weekend to help dry up the carpet. If a sprinkler head had been broken (as suspected), the floor probably would have been flooded with a disastrous result. Of course, as we waited for the fire protection contractor to arrive and repair the line, I went to my office and took another shot at my corrupt .pst file. I actually made some progress, but it looks like I might have to resort to a backup file that could be pretty old. So, think of my column this month as a public service announcement. While I can’t predict when your sprinklers will go haywire, I can at least warn you of one thing: immediately stop what you’re doing and check the size of your .pst file. If you’re approaching two Gigs, scream out loud and seek help. Then, go and review your plans for dealing with water emergencies. Remember, even you folks without sprinkled buildings have toilets, sinks, and water fountains that are poised and ready to blow at any time!
Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.