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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Papers Please

There are some lessons in life that I enjoy watching others learn. For example, no matter how big of a fish you think you are in your little pond, there is always a bigger one.
We got a call right in the middle of our workout. Several of the local elementary schools in our city were all complaining of a strange odor. 911 operators were also getting inundated by calls from homes in the area. As soon as we pulled within a block of the first school we could smell it. It was not a pleasant smell to say the least.

Once we made contact with school security we advised them to shelter in place until we could determine the source of the smell. We also had dispatch call all of the other schools and advise them to do the same thing.

We then drove upwind a couple of blocks to a construction zone. The construction crews there were installing a new sewer pipe inside the existing one. When we first pulled up there was no smell. I thought for sure that our wild goose chase was going to continue. Then, as we walked towards the project foreman, the smell hit us like a ton of bricks.
I'm still a little vague on the process. To re-pipe they line the existing pipes with a liner that turns into a hard plastic. They then inject hot water and an activating agent into the pipes which causes the liner to harden. The activating agent is what smells. It's supposedly harmless.

In order to do any kind of work like this the construction company has to file the proper paperwork with the city to obtain permits. One of the things they need to file and keep with them on site is an MSDS on all the chemicals being used so the city can be sure that it's citizens are safe. When the foreman was asked by my captain about his MSDS  he started to have an attitude. Generally not the brightest of ideas. Evidently the foreman was used to getting his way all the time and thought that he should get it now. Turns out the MSDS was not on site and now we had to wait for the fax.
In the mean time, our BC showed up along with someone from our city permit office. The foreman continued with his attitude. Once the MSDS showed up it was mysteriously lacking any information on the chemical in question. And, on the permit, the company did not disclose that it would be using this chemical. The foreman went into a rant about how he does this for a living all over the state and how fire departments everywhere have the same problem.

If this is true, wouldn't you be better prepared for us when we show up?

The foreman finally said that he was going to finish the project because he needed to get his equipment to another job site the next day. My BC shut him down. The foreman was told that he could do whatever he wanted as long as it didn't include the activating agent until such time as a proper permit and MSDS could be obtained. Hehehe. I can't help but laugh when someone with an attitude problem gets put in their place.

In this situation, I think had the foreman acted differently, there would have been a better outcome for him. I understand that he is used to being the boss but when dealing with people that have control over you, a little humility can go a long ways.
I did save the day on this call. My engineer needed a bathroom early on into this call. The call ended up being over 3 hours long. About two hours into the incident (after having traveled back to the elementary school once but not stopping for more than 30 seconds) I happened to spot the port-a-potty at the construction site. It was behind some of the construction equipment and hard to see from where we were standing. My engineer was grateful. The funny thing is we had parked just on the opposite side of the trench from the kybo. We just didn't see it at the time.


Hydrant girl said...

Ah yes, it sounds like insituform.... we use that process / company here. You have the technique right - a liner that is basically like rolling a sock inside out so it adheres to the sewer pipe with extreme temps of water. I'll have to see if we take out any special permits here.... and I don't think I've ever smelt it as bad as your describing.
Interesting post. I can't get over how shallow your sewers are - we have them at least 6' deep because of our winters.

Firefighter/Paramedic said...

Ours were 8' under I think. The smell was really bad when they pumped out the hot water.

brian said...

I'm sure OSHA would have been interested in their project :)

Ah, firefighting: Going lights and sirens to boldly smell things few have ever smelled before...

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