SALEM - A pump responsible for sending waste to the city's sewage treatment plant from the east end failed Friday, with firefighters called to the scene after utility workers saw smoke or steam coming from the lift station.
"Something was overheated down there, beyond any doubt," Capt. Shawn Mesler of the Salem City Fire Department said.
Firefighters were summoned mid morning to the East State Street Sewage Lift Station located along the Pershing Street extension behind Marc's and Giant Eagle for an underground fire. Mesler said they found steam coming out, but theorized that water filling the hole extinguished whatever happened down there.
Lt. Rod Hughes of the Salem City Fire Department is lowered into the hole at the East State Street Sewage Lift Station on Pershing Street by fellow firefighters from left, Capt. Shawn Mesler, Firefighter Brandon Lucas, Lt. Steve Mix (not visible) and Capt. Jeff Olinger. Firefighters were called to the scene for an underground fire Friday morning after city utility workers opened the hatch and smoke or steam came out. The pump system was not working, with workers still on the scene Friday night. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
Assistant Utilities Superintendent Matt Hoopes explained that the lift station used a dry pumping system which pumps out of a wet well and something apparently failed. The city uses several lift stations to pump waste out to the waste water treatment plant located off of Pennsylvania Avenue.
He wasn't sure if there was a pump failure or a pipe failure or what was causing the malfunction. Motorists probably smelled the result of the problem, but Hoopes said users wouldn't notice any difference in service.
Every Friday, workers from the utilities department check every lift station in the city. During the routine check around 10:35 a.m., they found the problem at the East State Street station where water was filling up what's supposed to be dry system. The lift station was estimated to be 18 to 20 feet deep.
Water had to be pumped out of the space before anyone could go down to check anything, with firefighters monitoring the level of methane, hydrogen sulfide (commonly known as sewer gas), carbon monoxide and oxygen in the air and ventilating the confined space.
Mesler said all power was killed and once the fire department determined there were no hazards in there, workers were able to go down and assess the situation. Using their confined space equipment and training, firefighters sent Lt. Rod Hughes down first into the space with a 4 gas air monitor and a camera which can detect heat or fire behind walls or enclosed spaces to make sure any fire was extinguished. A fire extinguisher was ready to be sent down on a rope if necessary.
If it was determined safe, then the city electrician would be sent down, which he was.
"We want to make sure it's safe for him," Mesler said.
According to Mesler, the temperature of the water being pumped out at one point was 132 degrees Fahrenheit. He also said they had to pull workers out at one point when they had some issues with hydrogen sulfide, or sewer gas, levels.
Firefighters remained on hand for most of the afternoon and left in the evening, with utilities workers still on the scene.
Hoopes said they were still trying to make electrical repairs to motor controls. If for some reason, they couldn't get the repairs made, he said they would have to haul the waste from there to another lift station or to the waste water treatment plant.