Mysterious Water Main Break Poses Threat to Jersey City Downtown Area
A mysterious water main break in Jersey City, N. J., on the night of February 9th, threatened the safety of a large industrial and tenement area of that city as the water pressure dropped from a norm of 45 psi to only 3 psi.
At 10:30 p.m., with the mercury well below freezing, the pressure in the commercial downtown section, which covers about one-sixth of the city’s area, suddenly nosedived. The affected section is served by gravity from two reservoirs providing a total of 100 million gallons of storage. As the pressure dropped, the normal evening flow of 8.5 mgd jumped to a reading of over 32 mgd. The city immediately marshaled its forces to locate the obvious leak under the direction of August W. Heckman, public works commissioner.
Fire Chief Thomas Maloney was notified of the situation and immediately ordered all off-duty men back to work. The chief’s station wagon and the fire prevention bureau car, both of which are equipped with public address systems, were sent out to the afflicted area to broadcast warnings to residents not to push their boilers and to be especially careful of fire.
Police and public works vehicles similarly equipped joined in broadcasting warnings.
When appraised of the emergency, adjacent communities in New Jersey contacted Chief Maloney and offered him any assistance necessary.
Fire and police radio cars joined with public works vehicles to inspect the routes followed by the mains in an effort to find evidence of the leak. The visual inspection continued for several hours, but no evidence was uncovered.
Meanwhile, high-pressure feeder lines between the affected area and the Boonton supply were opened. The 90-psi pressure from these feeders resulted in 35 psi in the system, relieving the threat of insufficient water for fire protection.
Water department personnel then began closing key valves in the system and by a process of elimination it was ultimately discovered that the break existed in a 36-inch main under the Hackensack River.
The break affected 14 large industries and many smaller ones in the city, together with 7,000 homes and seven public and parochial schools, all of which were closed down for the duration of the emergency which was declared ended at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday the 11th.
Chief Maloney reported to FIRE ENGINEERING that not a single box alarm occurred during the five-hour period of greatest hazard; in fact, the only alarm reported was a “still” for a motor vehicle. This in itself was an unusual occurrence characterized by the chief as “the luck of the Irish.”