The Flood of 2006

There are certain things you never want to hear, such as “Dad! The potty is overflowing!” As the newest team member at MasterTech Plumbing, Heating and Cooling, I’d like to share a story about a sound I heard some years ago that eventually led me here.

In April 2006 my wife and I purchased our first home. She was about a month away from delivering our first child. We purchased a charming walkout ranch and were excited about starting our family in a place of our own. I remember hearing people telling me about “the joys of home ownership,” but never understood the evil little laugh that sometimes accompanied it.

Fast forward 7 months to late Fall. Our baby was now 6 months old and sleeping through most nights in her own crib. It was nearly midnight and I decided to check on her one last time before heading off to bed myself. As I was peeking over her crib, I heard an odd noise almost directly under us that sounded like a metal pipe being dropped and reverberating several times followed by a whooshing sound. Knowing our storage room in the basement was below us, I figured something fell over and might need to be cleaned up. I decided to investigate. Thank goodness I did.

As the door to the storage room opened, I’ll never forget seeing a massive stream of water shooting across the open space and bouncing off the water heater. The ¾” water main leading into our house had broken! A quick pull on the shut off valve did nothing to stop the flow. Unfortunately, the pipe had broken just under the valve…of course!

Next I did something that I can now laugh about due to the absurdity of it all, but at the time and under those circumstances, it seemed like a legitimate course of action. If you’re old enough, you may remember the cartoon of a kid plugging a leaking spot in a dam by sticking their finger into the hole. Without thinking, I decided to try this technique to stop the flood. That only served to spray water in all directions and create panic when it became clear I couldn’t get within an inch of the opening due to the massive pressure.

I began yelling for help to my wife, who was asleep upstairs, while I carried out boxes and assorted other stored items. Fortunately, the floor drain was doing a great job of clearing the water, especially after I made an impromptu channel with a couple of towels to direct the water. After what seemed like a month, but was probably only a minute or two, my wife appeared and took over the damage control so I could find help from a plumbing company.

With the aid of the yellow pages, I started calling residential plumbers. No surprise, at that time of night no one answered, but I must have left a dozen messages begging for an immediate call back. At some point, the idea of calling the City of Columbia Joint Communications dispatch office occurred to me since they could reach the Water & Light department. The operator who answered quickly explained they would send the fire department so it could be shut off at the street. We resumed the work of saving what we could, and soon received a call back from MasterTech Plumbing. We quickly arranged for the on-call technician to come over as soon as possible. (MasterTech now has someone answering emergency calls 24/7! You’ll get to talk to a REAL MasterTech employee who can dispatch a trained technician immediately.)

A few minutes later a fire truck arrived and the crew turned off the water using a special tool allowing them to reach into the water meter pit in our front yard (that’s the circular metal item you try not to hit with the lawn mower). In all, the water might have been gushing for about 20-30 minutes, but I was exhausted from the stress and moving a mountain of mementos. Shortly thereafter, the technician from MasterTech Plumbing arrived and got right to work on the plumbing repairs.

My wife had an extremely important meeting in the morning and needed to take a shower before attending it. We decided to rent a hotel room so we could have working facilities, but the technician assured us he could get a temporary repair in place which would allow us to use all bathroom facilities for a day or two until the pipe could be excavated and repaired properly. The wave of relief mixed with gratitude we experienced was indescribable. After about 45 minutes, our water service was back in order. In what can only be described as a miracle, our baby daughter slept through the entire event!

A little later that morning my wife was able to take a long, warm shower and we were able to resume our normally scheduled lives as if nothing major had happened. A day or two later, MasterTech’s excavating contractors returned to dig up the pipe and get it permanently fixed. It seems the house had settled and caused the pipe to pull away from the wall. I was told when this happens, it rarely results in the water line remaining inside. The water typically pours into the ground until someone tries to turn on a tap only to discover there is no water pressure in the house. (Not sure having thousands of gallons of water being lost into the ground would have been preferable, but sure wouldn’t have been as messy!) The technician explained they would install a flexible pipe which would allow some “play” in case the house settled more, thus avoiding a repeat of the flood of 2006.

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