Flood at the Museum
by Dawn Ballou
January 13, 2005
A burst fire sprinkler pipe caused considerable water damage to the interior of the Museum of the Mountain Man Sunday afternoon, January 9th. Water cascaded through the ceiling, down the steps, flooding portions of the upstairs, and the lower level with 6-8" of water in places before it was stopped. "Fortunately, none of the artifacts were affected," said Museum Director Laurie Hartwig.
There is considerable damage, but the artifacts are safe. People have been at the Museum day and night since Sunday working to minimize the damage. An investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the burst pipe in the fire sprinkler system. More estimates need to come in before a complete picture of the cost to repair damages can be made.
Within minutes of the report of the alarm from the security company, Museum Business Manager, Millie Pape, was first on the scene at the museum. The fire department arrived and realized they needed to go through the waterfall rushing from the broken 2" pipe in order to get downstairs to the water shut-off. "The first thing the firemen wanted to do was haul artifacts out in the snow," said Ms. Pape, which can damage pieces beyond repair. They were able to avoid doing this and get everything up off the floor as best as possible instead.
Thanks to the quick response to the alarm by the Sublette County Sheriff's Office, Pinedale Volunteer Fire Department firemen, and Museum staff, the water was quickly shut off. The Museum staff credited the quick response time in helping to minimize the damage.
The alarm first came in as fire alarm, but no evidence of a fire was found. It is uncertain exactly how the burst pipe and cascading water triggered the fire alarm. Since Sunday, a tremendous number of people have put in countless hours to work as quickly as possible to move artifacts out of harm's way, suck up the water, and clear out debris.
Rex Dohrmann and Jesse Early pitched in to provide much-needed manpower to clear out rooms and move furniture and display cases so carpet could be pulled up.
The staff at Rocky Mountain Home Center (RMHC) of Pinedale spent long hours running pumps to soak up water, which significantly reduced the extent of the damage to the floors. Scott Grove of RMHC felt they got the water cleaned up in time. "This will dry out fine," he told the Museum staff. His crew pulled up damaged carpet sections and carpet tiles, carefully inspecting the flooring to make sure all the wet areas had been found and fans put out.
Ms. Millie Pape was grateful the disaster wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. "About 90% of the artifacts were off the floor. We were very lucky," she said. Because of the slope of the lower level floor, water flowed into the administrative offices downstairs rather than into the rotunda area of displays or the library where many rare books are kept. While it was a major impact on the office, Museum staff were grateful the water went there instead of display and artifact storage rooms. Computers were relocated to temporary stations and office operations moved so staff can operate in the coming weeks while repairs are made.
"Quick response from the fire department really helped," said Dave Bell, Sublette County Historical Society Board member. "This was our worst fear, and it happened. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been." There still is some concern about water that drained down floor vents for the heating system, and making sure the system is cleaned out to prevent moisture and mold from being circulated through the building.
"Our biggest race is against mold, and I hope we beat that," said Ms. Hartwig. "Bridger Mechanical is scheduled for Monday morning to assess the basement heating and cooling vents. We’ll run two humidifiers and three fans full bore for the next 7-10 days. After that, hopefully we can start putting it back together again."
Estimates are still being gathered to repair damage to the carpet, floors and ceiling, display cases, insulation, walls and sheetrock. The carpet downstairs was a total loss. Some of the carpet tiles upstairs may be salvageable. "The insurance adjustor wants us to pull up all the carpet squares, number them, clean them, and put them back," stated Ms. Hartwig with some dismay. "It will be a miracle if they all fit into place without shredding, shrinking or curling." She added, "The carpet is 15 years old. We need new carpet."
Museum staff and Historical Society Board members are hoping to make the best of the disaster by using the repair needs to make certain safeguards are in place to prevent anything like this from happening in the future. In the Museum’s efforts to move towards accreditation more money has to be invested in facility improvements and methods of displaying artifacts. The Museum needs to replace existing display cases with ones that are waterproof, contain Lexon safety glass and provide adequate security for displayed items. The insurance carrier is requiring a professional appraisal in 2005-2006 of all the artifacts, so they need to be inventoried, cataloged and properly stored in climate-controlled rooms. In order to be handicapped accessible, the Museum needs to install an elevator. Regular inspections of pipes and electrical systems need to be done annually to meet standards for public buildings. The Museum is hoping the County Commissioners will grant them the half mil levy they are allowed in order to have the funding they need to make the required improvements. Becoming accredited, and meeting handicapped accessibility requirements are high-priorities for the Museum. "We have a lot of work to do, and need more money, in order to meet those goals. These are important steps the Museum needs to take in order to grow," said Ms. Hartwig.
Museum Director Laurie Hartwig added, "Out of any disaster, this is the best one we could have had because none of the artifacts were affected. That was our biggest concern. We are the keepers of the artifacts of Sublette County."