by Kevin White, Director of Maintenance & Preservation
It was President’s Day, and as was common this past winter, it had snowed the night before. The temperatures were in single digits, and a stiff wind was gracing the air. On this particular occasion we were lucky to have the snow, because the entire maintenance staff was here for its removal. Other dedicated staff members were also arriving, when the sprinkler pipes above the ceiling in the Visitors Center function rooms burst.
It became extremely clear how effective these sprinklers can be. A great amount of water came pouring down and flooded the entire room in moments. All alarm systems worked as they should, and immediately notified the Salem Fire Department, who responded promptly. Shortly after their arrival, they were able to shut off the sprinkler pump, as there was no conflagration. In the meantime, the staff, including our executive director, jumped into action to mitigate the problem. As water began to infiltrate the basement area, staff started to sweep the water out of the function rooms into the lobby and out the front door toward the storm drains. Other staff rushed to cover sensitive articles in the basement’s antiques and historical documents storage areas with protective plastic. Wet vacuums were deployed to help in the effort, and calls went out for further assistance. All of this transpired before 8:30 a.m.
The action that followed this calamity was truly amazing. Our call was heard. In very short order, friends from fellow institutions arrived to lend a hand and offer much welcome consultation and assistance. Staff from Historic New England and the Peabody Essex Museum arrived with much needed supplies and expertise. The team immediately went to work carefully removing all threatened historical collections items from the storage area to safer environs. It is our great fortune that very few items suffered damage. Those few that did suffer have been slated for proper conservation.
Although we have always been able to count on each other for support, the cultural community has, in recent years, formalized this understanding in a program known as COSTEP. In this capacity, institutions organize a co-operative support system in which they share expertise and other appropriate support in the face of crisis. First responders also work closely with institutions in this arrangement to help protect our regions historic resources. The response to our crisis was a great exercise in this system of cooperation.
In the meantime, the maintenance staff worked to remove wet and damaged ceiling tiles and insulation, and extracted as much water as possible. Following such an excellent initial response, further cleanup of the flooded areas was performed by SERVPRO. They arrived early that afternoon and began the process of drying out and dehumidifying the affected area. Every effort was taken to ensure proper drying, and moisture/humidity levels were monitored over the course of the week to ensure proper dry out had been accomplished. Since that time, the affected sprinklers, the insulation, the ceiling tiles and the carpet have been replaced, and the function room is back in full swing. Our thanks go out to The Gables staff and the community as a whole. Special thanks to Julie Arrison and Megan MacNeil of Historic New England and Dave O’Ryan from P.E.M. who arrived on scene. To all others who responded, we are forever grateful.
This post was written by Ryan Conary