The alarm sounded, and the first reaction of the staff at Avalon Nursing and Rehabilitative Center on Stokes Street was there was a fire. With 32 patients in the facility, they rushed to investigate. But they didn’t find flame or smoke. Rather, water was streaming from the ceiling, and soon paneling started coming down.
At the same time Saturday afternoon the alarm was triggered at the Fire Department. Apparatus from more than one station was dispatched.
Patients in their beds and wheelchairs were wheeled through a couple of inches of water to the dry wing of the building. Meanwhile, another crew quickly tracked the problem to a burst water pipe on the third floor near a window that was a crack open.
For a moment it looked like a daunting situation. Would the water have to be shut down, might electrical systems have been compromised; would there be heat; might the patients have to be relocated?
But the situation was quickly under control. Water was restored. The heat and power weren’t lost. And while the cascade made for a mess and adjustments in dinner as the kitchen was affected, it wasn’t any more serious than that.
“Now it’s the cleanup,” said Avalon owner David Kowalik on Sunday morning.
The episode was the most notable during a string of harsh winter days starting Thursday as winds gusting to 60 MPH at Conimicut Point dumped more than 14 inches of snow on the city. The second punch were temperatures falling below zero over the weekend.
The third punch, Warwick Fire Chief and emergency management officer James McLaughlin feared Sunday, could be this week when temperatures climb above freezing.
“When it gets warmer you’re going to get water main breaks,” McLaughlin predicted. He was right.
Students at Toll Gate High School got an unexpected Monday off shortly after arriving to school when a pipe burst near the auditorium around 7:15 a.m. Administrative secretary Catherine Bonang said that water had flowed into the auditorium and band rooms.
As a result, tonight’s originally scheduled school committee meeting has been moved to Warwick Veterans Junior High School for Wednesday night instead. Bonang said that school would be reopened tomorrow on schedule and that she will be sending a waiver request to RIDE so that Toll Gate students don’t have to make the day up prior to leaving for summer vacation.
Elsewhere on Monday, City Hall suffered a burst pipe, which resulted in significant water damage occurring in multiple offices and departments. As a result of the damage, the Building Department, City Council Office, Community Development, MIS Department, Personnel Department, Planning Department and the Tax Assessor’s Office will all be moved temporarily into John Greene Elementary School located at 69 Draper Ave.
“Crews are currently onsite setting up the temporary facility,” a release reads. “Constituents are advised that certain departments may have limited availabilities during this time. Full capabilities are projected for the start of business Wednesday morning.”
The release indicated that there is not yet a timeline on when the City Hall Annex building, which was also damaged, will be reopened, as “damages are still in the assessment process.”
Overall, McLaughlin said there were no major incidents attributable to the spate of winter weather. Under mutual aid and a mayday call from a trapped firefighter, Warwick firefighters responded to a fire that destroyed three Providence apartment buildings early Saturday morning. McLaughlin called the fire treacherous and, given the circumstances, thought there was the potential for more serious injury and loss of life. Nine were injured, including the firefighter who while searching for people was trapped when a roof collapsed.
The department rescued a swan offshore from Arnold’s Neck whose wing was frozen to the ice. McLaughlin said the crew used a sled, equipment used by the dive team for ice rescues, to reach and then free the bird.
McLaughlin termed the storm and penetrating freeze that followed as “very, very quiet” in terms of fire department calls.
By and large, he said, people stayed off the road Thursday enabling plow crews to open up roads. High winds made the work all the more challenging as drifting snow filled in roadways that had been cleared.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur cited that problem in several locations on Warwick Neck. He found constituents understanding of conditions and said the Department of Public Works did a “good job.” He thought the on-road parking ban was followed, allowing plow crews to do their job.
DPW Director Richard Crenca called the drifting snow a “constant battle” on Friday, especially on Kirby Avenue on Warwick Neck and Industrial Drive near the airport. Crenca said 54 city and 18 private plow crews worked the storm.
“They were out there 24 hours straight,” he said. “They did a really good job.”
This was Crenca’s first major storm since taking control of the department and he’s discovered on thing already.
“I wish at times the public had a little more patience,” he said. “They see a plow early in the storm and think it’s not going to come back. My only pet peeve is that I wish they would give us time to finish our jobs.”
McLaughlin termed the acquisition of fiberglass red poles used to locate fire hydrants as a good investment. Some hydrants might otherwise be lost in drifts or waves of snow from plows. McLaughlin said the department also took the precaution of hauling its marine #2 boat that is on a trailer and could be launched in the event of an emergency on the bay. He acknowledged launching it could be problematic since boat ramps and marinas are frozen in.