Frozen Pipes Keep OC Firefighters Busy

OCEAN CITY— Persistent frigid temperatures in the area late last week kept the Ocean City Fire Department busy with responses to frozen pipe calls and residential and commercial properties, making for a busy Christmas morning for firefighters.

The winter blast that descended on much of the eastern half of the U.S. dropped temperatures into the teens with much lower “feels like” temperatures because of the gale force winds that accompanied the storm. As a result, the Ocean City Fire Department had its hands full with responses to calls for frozen or busted pipes over the holiday weekend, in addition to their other calls for service.

For example, during a 48-hour period beginning Christmas morning, the OCFD responded to 24 calls for frozen or broken pipes in the resort, according to the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office. That’s 12 each day over a two-day period, or one on average about every two hours. It’s not entirely an unusual situation each winter during stretches when the daytime temperatures do not surpass the freezing marks and overnight temperatures dip far below.

With temperatures in the area steadily increasing in the days since, and a forecast for daytime highs in the mid-50s predicted for the weekend, the frozen pipe situation could only exacerbate. Frozen pipes have a propensity for bursting during the thawing process as well.

Frozen and bursting pipes during a stretch of particularly frigid weather is a problem resulting in a lot of calls for service for the fire department even in occupied properties. However, because of the seasonal nature of the resort area, there is an inordinate number of private residences and commercial properties that are unoccupied during the dead of winter, which only exacerbates the problem.

Many private residences and commercial properties that are closed up during the winter are susceptible because owners did not have the forethought to consider winterizing when they left for the last time during balmy temperatures weeks of months ago. As a result, some frozen or bursting pipe issues go unnoticed until the property owners return.

The Ocean City Fire Department is reminding citizens and property owners to follow a few simple maintenance tips to ensure that pipes and sprinklers do not freeze during stretches of frigid temperatures and low wind chills experienced last week. For example, setting the thermostat at an appropriate temperature is the easiest step in avoiding issues. Of course, if a property is occupied, the thermostats would be set at comfortable levels, but many property owners who travel or close up their seasonal properties for the winter do not consider taking precautions when they left during balmy temperatures.

In many cases, the living spaces might feel warm, but there are pipes exposed in crawl spaces or in attics where the property owner might not realize the temperature has dropped below the freezing mark for a prolonged period of time.

All sprinklered areas of a building should be checked to make sure the temperature is above freezing. Setting a unit thermostat to keep pipes around at least 40 degrees should keep them from freezing. With regard to dry sprinkler systems, auxiliary condensate drains should be drained by a licensed sprinkler company or person knowledgeable about sprinkler systems.

Emergency contact numbers should be posted on the outside of a vacant building, which can help the fire department contact responsible parties in the event of a pipe break. Also, key lock boxes, which can be purchased from the Ocean City Fire Department headquarters at 15th Street, can allow responders access into a building in the event of an emergency and allow firefighters to turn off water mains and minimize damage within properties.

In addition, the Ocean City Police Department has a free residential check program. Property owners can register their properties if they are going to away from a prolonged period of time and check if there is apparent water leakage or other obvious damage.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.