The quick work of dedicated professionals during Tropical Storm Irene likely prevented catastrophic damage to the Ouellette Thermal Test Facility at Natick Soldier Systems Center.

As the storm bore down on the area on Sunday, Aug. 28, Emergency Services and Public Works employees responded to a sprinkler alarm at the TTF. Police Sergeant Ken Hamel and Officers Steve Theriault and Scott Woordward closed a valve discharging water from the side of the building.

Fire Inspector Joe Murphy helped secure the building, reset the fire-alarm panel and closed a secondary deluge valve. John Pfeiffer and Bill Gladney of DPW further limited the damage by clearing the water from the building.

"The actual damage is still quite extensive and will impact the mission in the near future," said Mike Grady, TTF manager. "But it is relatively minor compared to what might have happened if not for the quick, competent and professional response. These men … are to be commended.

"There was 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of water that came out in about five minutes. So, it was everywhere. There's a lot of peripheral damage. It wasn't nearly as bad as we thought it would have been if the system had been powered up and those guys didn't respond as fast as they did."

Grady said the responders "saved millions of dollars of equipment from further damage. This effort on their part makes our task one of repair, not of gutting and replacing the entire thermal-testing system."

Grady pointed out that Mike Franciose of DPW began looking into the deluge activation even while power was out on post.

"This is yet another example of a Natick employee performing at an elevated level during arduous circumstances," Grady said.

According to Grady, verbal agreement with procurement for emergency funds to begin the repairs also came through that same day.

"This was all done in the dark, with flashlights and hardwired phone lines as the building was without power," Grady said. "From start to finish, this was completed within 15 minutes."

Grady estimated damage was "less than a couple hundred thousand, I believe." He added that TTF operations would be affected for "a couple months, maybe."
As of early this week, the event's cause had yet to be found.

"We're still trying to figure it out," Grady said. "We can't power up until we know what caused it.

"We are now waiting for the technician to figure out what caused the problem and the
remedy to prevent this from happening again."

Meanwhile, Grady came away impressed with the garrison response.

"The execution during the high-stress time was impeccable by everybody involved, especially the DA Police and the DPW guys," Grady said. "They're the heroes. They saved thousands and thousands of dollars. The response from the base people was phenomenal."