Four chillers failing at the central energy plant after an early-morning power outage on Sept. 16 created a spate of flooding in four Fort Stewart buildings recently.
The chillers were brought back online quickly, and the resulting flood damage in buildings, two of them barracks, was rapidly addressed by the installation’s public works directorate.
Bill McGovern, operations and maintenance and lead mold remediation specialist, visited the affected barracks rooms on Sept. 27, 10 days after the flooding, to show the moisture and humidity levels in the rooms. One of the affected rooms had a humidity of a little over 58%; less than 60% is considered acceptable but DPW aims for 45%.
The baseboards in the barracks room, which were almost fully covered during the flood, had 11% moisture. Under 15% is considered a safe moisture level for construction material, McGovern said.
The incident two weekends ago was caused by excessive pressure in the cold-water lines that run from the central energy plant to several of the buildings here after the power failed around 4:30 a.m. That resulted in water leaks and flooding, said McGovern.
“Normally what happens when we have over-pressurization is we have valves at the top of the building called pop-offs,” McGovern said. “They release the pressure then they reset. In this incident about four different buildings, we didn’t have the reset of the valves, which allowed water to come in.”
The age of the building and the uniqueness of four chillers failing at once caused the flooding. Two rooms on the third floor of building 212 in the 385th Military Police Battalion’s footprint had nearly two inches of water on the floor, McGovern said.
“We had a cavitational vacuum within the line, and once we got a chiller back up, the quick over pressurization is what caused those pop-offs to go,” he said. “Because of the building’s age the pop-offs, some of them just remained in the open positions.”
Even with the excessive pressure in the cold-water lines, only four of the more than 60 buildings with pop-off valves had issues during the incident, McGovern said. Having the four chillers fail all at the same is an isolated incident.
“This is definitely not a routine thing,” he said. “We had a catastrophic failure the first time since I’ve been working for DPW in over three years that we had all four chillers go down at the same time. That was due to a power outage that we had.”
Despite the early hour of the incident, the unit leadership did an outstanding job of reconsolidating rooms and moving Soldiers out of potentially unhealthy conditions, McGovern said. The Soldiers living in building 212 reported to unit leadership the ceiling was leaking, and leaders notified the Fort Stewart fire department and public works. Reports of leaks came into the fire department around 11:30 a.m., and engines arrived at the building within minutes. Public works plumbers dispatched quickly, too.
“They did what they and the leaders should do and they did it right,” he said. “As soon as they realized they had an emergency they went ahead and evacuated the Soldiers. It allowed the mold team and DPW to come in and take appropriate actions to make sure when we move Soldiers back into these rooms that they’re good to go.”
Part of the unit’s response included Capt. Huston Hall, 546th Military Police Company commander, and Lt. Col. Kristopher Gardner, 385th Military Polic Battalion Commander, drawing additional dehumidifiers from DPW, McGovern said. Most of the rooms already have one standard, but every room affected was plussed up to two thanks to the additional 65 dehumidifiers issued.
The quick response by all involved—the Soldiers living in the barracks, the unit leadership, the fire department and public works is praiseworthy and sets the standard for both routine and emergent barracks maintenance issues, said Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Marc Austin.
“I am proud of how quickly the team pulled together to overcome this unique challenge,” Austin said. “The early hour of the failure didn’t stop anyone from doing what they needed to do—reporting up the chain what was happening, moving assets to fix the problem, and ensuring our Soldiers are living in safe conditions. This particular incident was unique, but it still gave us the opportunity to validate our maintenance and mold response capabilities.”
The end result of the incident was Soldiers were taken care of, Austin said. The affected Soldiers knew who to call to get help, and DPW—on-call 24 hours a day to support all residents on the installation. Leadership and DPW working together to find new rooms for the Soldiers was critical, too.
“We were able to find alternate accommodations for the Soldiers and once the barracks are fixed everyone will be back in their rooms,” he said.
This incident generated over 42 work orders between the mold team doing moisture assessments and pipe repair, McGovern said. All but four are closed. Two rooms have mold in their bathrooms, and two rooms have excessive moisture levels. None of the four are currently occupied due to the remediation effort.
The bathrooms will undergo mold remediation, McGovern said.
“It’ll be treated with hydrogen peroxide, we’ll clean up as much of it as we can, we’ll dry it out, and we’ll seal it with epoxy paint,” he said. “That way we don’t have these issues in this room again.”
Understanding the DPW mold process and knowing what the Soldiers’ responsibilities are in keeping their barracks room clean and free of mold is critical, too, McGovern said. Anything under 10 square feet is small enough for Soldiers to clean themselves. But McGovern still wants a work order filed.
“I still want the mold team to see it,” he said. “That way we can get data and make better assessments of building envelopes and what we can do in the future to prevent mold.”
Filing a work order like that can be annoying, and McGovern realizes that.
“We do care about the Soldiers, we do care about our buildings, and we understand that sometimes there are frustrations,” he said. “But there’s a process and we like to follow the process. It’s proven and we like to do it and make sure we take care of things.”
Ensuring Soldiers do their part in keeping their living spaces clean and reporting maintenance concerns is critical in the fight against mold, said Fort Stewart senior enlisted advisor Command Sgt. Major Ely Capindo. Leadership also needs to stay involved.
“Keeping your space clean is a critical life skill our Soldiers need to practice,” Capindo said. “Doing so shows maturity and responsibility. Soldiers’ leaders need to be in the barracks, too, checking to see Soldiers are doing the right things and also to see for themselves if there are any maintenance concerns that need to be fixed. Our Soldiers deserve to live in a safe environment.”