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I never thought I needed to see it… until I did.

October 17, 2009

I never thought that I would need the experience of seeing raw sewage shoot 20′.  That was, until I had the experience of watching raw sewage shoot 20′ out of a release valve in a sewer line that had probably a 4″ diameter.

So, I guess I should back up a few hours.  I had gone up to our copier to pick up a printout, and everything was fine.  When I returned, my intern and one of my carpenters (if you read this and would like me to use your names, leave a comment and I will edit) were staring at the underneath of the paint sink, where liquid was splashing up and around the hole in the floor that the drain pipe leads through.  (It is probably important at this time to mention that our shop is on the first floor, and we connect to a loading door that leads outside to a street where they have been trying to put in a lightrail system- which is essentially a modern day trolley- since at least May.)  It was at that point in time that we noticed air bubbles coming out of the toilet.  We tried to turn the water valve off, but it was too late.

Raw sewage started flowing out of the toilet.  It looks similar to when your toilet at home backs up, except when your toilet backs up at home you can be comforted by the thought that it is your feces which clogged it.  Not so much when you are at the end of a public sewer line.  Oh- it’s not just poop.  There is toilet paper, and water, and grey dusty stuff, and roaches.  Yes.  Roaches live in the sewers.  People are not kidding when they say that those bugs carry diseases.  We threw down towels and old mops in front of the door, and had a tiny little dam going, but it got to be too much. We ran and closed off the water to all the other toilets on the first and second floors (which luckily were not overflowing yet, as they were farther from the street).  More towels were in order, but before we could get them, our dam started leaking.  So now the problem was spreading, first into the paint shop, then under the drafting table.  We were picking things up and moving them away as fast as we could, but we now had 4″ of sewer water in the bathroom.  Things were not looking good for us.  An all company e-mail was sent out asking people to not use anything that leads to the sewers (for the 3rd time in 3 weeks- but that is a sore topic).  The satellite high school that shares our building was warned.  The bar next door was nice enough to offer their bathrooms to anyone who had to go.  Many of us seriously considered not coming back.

But the water was rising.  The intern (who is also the new facilities manager, and has been holding this job for less than a month at this point) and I were going down to the sub-basement under the shop.  Oh- the other obstruction that made this day fun- they had just poured concrete in front of our door for a new sidewalk- and it is still wet. The door to the basement is about 1′ over from our loading door, so we unlock the thing, and swing around onto the staircase.  At this point in time two of the construction workers (I never got their names) have joined us.

The sub-basement was raining sewage.  To give you a better mental picture- there are very few lights in the sub-basement, and a dirt floor.  The farther section (which is closer to the next street over as the building takes up the entire width of a city block, and about one third the length) has a lake.  It is not really a lake, it is not deep enough to swim in, it is just a giant puddle essentially that never goes away as our foundation is under sea level, but it is deep enough that you need some pretty decent boots to walk though it.  Right in front of the lake is the pipes for our shop vacuum system, which we repair often. There is an open, mostly dry space taking up the rest of the basement.  The ceiling over this open space is about 5′ above the floor.  On top of that, there are many large water and sewer pipes that run between the stairs and that open space, which are directly in the middle of the ceiling and floor, so you have to duck under them to get pretty much anywhere back there. Take all this into the dark, walk around there with flashlights for a while, and you will think you have been dropped directly into the beginning of the most recent slasher movie.

If you are standing in the middle of this open space, and looking at the lake, to your left you will see a wall.  This wall is about 30′ long, and hides another set of pipes.  It is that section that looked like the dirtiest tropical rain forest I have ever seen.  We pulled some of the drywall off of the metal frames by the door.  One of the construction guys recognized the overflow valve (which is technically a pipe, and more for the purposes of snaking the line than actual overflow).  I ran upstairs and swung around the door (wet concrete!) to go grab some tools to release the cap.

Meanwhile in the scene shop, a second dam had been build out of more towels and 2′ long stage weights.  they had purposefully broken the first dam at the bathroom door, as another one of my carpenters had drilled a hole in the floor to the sub-basement, and they were now forcing the water down out of the first floor, and as that was not really going fast enough, sucking it up with two shop vacs.  The sewage has made it’s way under my desk and under the stair to the TD’s office.  I run for the basement with the tools.

My intern, covered in plastic bags and rubber gloves, was the one to take the cap off of the pipe.  The construction guys and I held flashlights, advised him not to get his face in the way, and made bad jokes (one of the guys kept asking him if he was “scared sh!tless… get it?  get it??”).  The cap was loosened.  Sewage started to seep out around the pipe, like when you shake up a champagne bottle, but don’t get the cork all the way off.  “Don’t take it off!  Don’t take it off!” called out one of the construction workers.  “I have to release the pressure,” called back the intern.  “If you take it off, we will not be able to put it back on, and get your face as far from there as possible,” was my only input.  The reply was, “I’m doing it.”

I don’t know if the cap was still in his hands, or if it blew off with the force of all of this backed up sewage, but the next thing we all saw looked very similar to the end of a fire hose.  Luckily the snaking pipe was pointed away from the staircase.  I think I may have said “Happy New Year”.  I know I though about it.  We were all commenting on how cool it was, when it dawned on all of us at almost the same time that we should probably get out of there.  We bolted up the stairs, swung around the door, and stopped inside the shop.  I heard the intern pipe up next to me, “ummm… BA…  I think I might have left the wrench down there.”  I didn’t care.  I don’t think we would have wanted to use it again anyway.

The toilet almost immediately stopped overflowing when we released the pipe.  The next day our cleaning crew (who also do hospitals) disinfected the bathroom.  I bleached the shop area and surrounding tools yesterday.  The city has been trying to snake the pipe since the toilet backed up.  They brought out a scanner yesterday, and determined that the cause of the blockage was concrete.  Chalk up another mark of inconveniences this construction has caused.  I have a 3/4 page list and counting.  Oh- and as for the roaches- in the end there were only three left in the bathroom, and we took some Raid to them.

So how has my week been?  Well… sh!tty. But at the same time, a whole lot of fun.
It’s not everyday you get to see a fountain of sewage and not be in a movie theater.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Lizzi Mae permalink
    October 17, 2009 5:37 pm

    Wow. Thats all I have to say. I read that like one reads trashy romance novels, slack-jawed and waiting for the climax.

    Seriously I can not even believe you had to deal with this. I am so glad you are keeping a blog now so you can revert back to this when you write your memoirs.

    And you will want to include this story.

    wtf man, wtf.

    so kudos to you for making it through this. I imagine you took at least three showers, because the first two didn’t take.

    • bachic permalink*
      October 18, 2009 11:33 am

      Yup… one when I got home that night, one the next morning, and one the next day after I cleaned up… well… that last one was more to get the bleach off of me…

      But if anyone ever has any questions on how to clean up after sewage, I am now fully knowledgeable. Although we are still trying to figure out what to do with the two shop vacs…

  2. Dak permalink
    October 17, 2009 9:36 pm

    gross! but so cool…:)

  3. Jessie permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:03 am


    ..I don’t even know what else to say to that!!!

    I hope you get all cleared out soon and all…and that that NEVER happens again…to anyone…ever…

    Miss you and love you!!


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