AUSTIN (KXAN)– The Austin Fire Department says it has extra crews to handle an increased volume of calls related to winter weather.
In a tweet, the department said from 12 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Monday, the Austin Fire Department dispatch received 582 broken water pipe calls, more than 500 coming in since noon.
Austin Fire Division Chief Thayer Smith said they normally have 60 units on the ground. Right now, they have 10 extra vehicles and 20 extra people on duty.
“There’s just so many, we’re sending units by there as we have them available from other calls,” Smith said.
He said they’re trying to get to as many as possible between other, higher priority calls.
“We were ready for this and had a plan to implement our responses to this on Thursday or Friday when it thawed out. So, it caught us a little bit by surprise that they’re breaking already,” he said.
Smith says they believe it’s just so cold that pipes are expanding and breaking now.
He still expects that number of calls to double or triple as ice thaws later in the week.
At the Pearl Lantana apartments in Austin, a maintenance employee says they had had pipes in four buildings burst by late afternoon.
The alarm is what awoke 79-year-old Neil McHugh from his nap late Monday afternoon.
“With the siren, I thought maybe there was a fire or something,” McHugh said. “I opened the door and, yeah, I was trying to find out what was going on.”
Jerra Peyka, who lives downstairs, had come outside to find out why the alarm was going off.
“I came upstairs and there was a literal like wave of water coming off of one of the patios,” she said.
That’s when Peyka says she heard McHugh’s call for help.
“He had water just pouring down everywhere in his apartment. In his bedroom, he’s probably got three inches of standing water,” Peyka said.
Other neighbors joined her to help clear the space for McHugh.
“We started getting some of his medications, things that he would, you know, definitely need just to keep something from getting ruined,” Peyka said. “He’s disabled and has been for a while so I just felt like I needed to jump in and help him however I could.”
The group was able to get in touch with McHugh’s daughter to help find a warm and dry place for him to stay.
Smith said they are trying to get to all broken water pipe calls but in the meantime, if your water pipes burst, the best thing to do is to try to figure out how to cut off water to your home yourself, if it is safe to do so.