Police officers Crowther and Morell discover city hall flooding, avert disaster

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis narrowly averted disaster recently when a water line broke in city hall, flooding a number of rooms with 4,000 gallons of water.

At 11:36 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, police officers Brett Morell and Brandon Crowther entered city hall from the police department to fetch supplies when they discovered a wet floor at the front of the city hall offices. They could also hear a loud noise coming from the main hallway. 

The officers found the main hallway floor flooded. As they searched for the cause, they called Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. to bring him up to speed.

This is the city hall training room. If you look closely you can see the reflection of the two inches of water on the floor.

Morell and Crowther found the noise to be coming from a mechanical closet. “I was on the phone with the officers as they discovered the expansion tank of the water heater had broken loose and water was spraying directly out onto the floor of the mechanical room,” Ramereiz said via email.

Ramereiz continued: “Officer Morell was able to find a shut valve and turned the water off. I instructed the officers to inspect the entire building for water damage/flooding. I also instructed the officer to use their body-worn cameras to record and narrate what they found for insurance purposes. Officers were also instructed to make note of any electrical hazards or damage to vital equipment/files.”

Ramereiz called City Manager Kurt Giles and notified him of the incident. Giles left his home in Wheeler to assess the damage. “I came in to meet with the officers, move some items to safer locations, notify the rest of the office staff and begin making arrangements for the start of cleanup on Thursday morning,” Giles said via email.

Turns out that a water line fitting broke off at the threads in a mechanical room off the main corridor of city hall about an hour before the officers noticed water on the floor. “It was a threaded connection to a small surge tank,” Giles said via email. “It appeared that the material had deteriorated over time until it failed.”

DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott picks up the narrative here: “We went in first thing in the morning and vacuumed up water with our shop vac and then went and rented some carpet extraction machines and carpet fans to work on drying it up,” he said via email. “We got most of the water up the first day and went back occasionally over the next day to move fans. We took the rented fans back when Hammer Restoration came in.”

Hammer Restoration “dried things out by running fans and dehumidifiers and pumping dry air into the wall cavities,” Giles said via email.

There is no estimate on repair cost yet, but “it will be a lot by the time it’s done,” Giles said. Fortunately, the city’s insurance company will pay all but the $250 deductible. 

There is no set date for beginning repairs, but Finance Director Bobbie Marr said work could potentially begin the first week of March. Damage includes a ruined carpet and baseboards.

Councilman Tom Reed asked if the city has a flood alarm in city hall. Giles said there was a Watchdog flood sensor in the city’s computer room that didn’t go off. “It might not have been ‘under water’ but was in standing water on the floor and didn’t initiate an alarm message,” he said via email. 

“We’re not sure what happened with it,” Marr said. “It’s in rough shape.”

Everyone was pleased that Crowther and Morell discovered the flooding only an hour after it began. “It was bad enough for just an hour or so and could have been much worse,” Giles said.

Giles commended Marr for dealing with the insurance company and Clerk Mari Anne Ryder, “who has moved a lot of items multiple times and members of the DPW crew, and the rest of our office staff have all pitched in.”

By the way, city hall was open to the public again starting Monday, Jan. 18, so you can pay your monthly city bill in person again.

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