Smoky sewer data: Sewer smoke testing could finish todayAmong those who will be relieved when the sanitary sewer smoke tests are completed today will be Jim Reuther, chief of the Jamestown Fire Department. His department has been called out 16 times since July 29 for reports of smoke in homes. Fifteen of the 16 calls were handled by the ready squad. The ready squad is one or two of the department’s full-time staff who go to the scene of unknown incidents and determine if the whole fire department needs to respond.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
Among those who will be relieved when the sanitary sewer smoke tests are completed today will be Jim Reuther, chief of the Jamestown Fire Department. His department has been called out 16 times since July 29 for reports of smoke in homes.
Fifteen of the 16 calls were handled by the ready squad. The ready squad is one or two of the department’s full-time staff who go to the scene of unknown incidents and determine if the whole fire department needs to respond.
In an incident Thursday morning, smoke entering the home from a bad wax seal on a toilet found its way into a bedroom before it was noticed. Because the bedroom had no plumbing fixtures the entire fire department was called out, Reuther said.
“It is probably one of the better ways to identify the problem,” he said. “But it is a nuisance to the owner or the occupant.”
In the smoke test, a fan is used to force smoke into a manhole. The smoke will push out of any leaks in the sewer pipe and can be seen coming out of the ground or any other opening it finds. There should be no smoke inside the home unless sewer drain traps are dry or there are leaks in the sewer pipes in the home.
“If everything goes right the smoke comes out of the manholes and roof vents on the house,” said Scott Wilcox, CAD tech for Ulteig Engineering. “When it doesn’t go right the owners sometimes call the fire department.”
Along with some in-home sewer leaks, the testing has given engineers more information on the condition of the sanitary sewer infrastructure.
Leaks in the sanitary sewer infrastructure allowing the intrusion of floodwater during the last two spring high water events have been blamed for near-overload situations for the sewer lift stations. In 2009 the situation forced officials to pump materials from the sanitary sewer lift stations directly to the river to avoid overloading the main lift stations.
“We’re seeing less signs of breaks in general than expected,” said Reed Schwartzkopf, city engineer. “We found some sewer pipes we didn’t know existed but overall we’ve seen less than expected.”
The testing has also confirmed some earlier suspicions.
“We’ve located some cross connect between the storm and the sanitary sewer but this is also less than expected,” he said. “All cities formally had combined storm and sanitary sewer systems and began separating them over the years.”
Schwartzkopf said some of the connections between the two systems may have been missed when the separation occurred possibly back in the 1960s. Other possibilities include the failure of the 50-year-old plugs between the systems and sanitary and storm sewer pipes running too close together.
“If the pipes are right on top of each other they’ll both fail at points where the soil is weak and settles,” he said. “Then you get infiltration from the storm sewer system into the sanitary system.”
Final results of sanitary sewer system testing are due late this fall. Interim results may determine the need for repeating some of the smoke testing yet this summer.
“We need to get to the 70 to 80 percent point of the testing data to know where we’re at,” Schwartzkopf said. “We need to identify the hot spots in the sewer basins.”
Schwartzkopf also said homeowners who did get smoke into their house during the testing should call a plumber.
“If you had smoke coming into your house you’ve got sewer gas coming in,” he said. “If filling the drain traps didn’t stop the smoke from coming in you need to get a plumber to look at the situation.”
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at
(701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at email@example.com