Lawn signs, banners, billboards, ads, social media posts, and more have been thanking essential workers such as doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, and others on the front lines during the pandemic. For good reason. While others were quarantining at home, these critical workers never stopped going to work. They have been providing a lifeline–sometimes literally–for people.
But consider this: Have you been following the CDC’s guidance and cleaning your hands much lately? You have plumbers to thank for that.
When COVID cases began surging, temporary hospitals were quickly erected to help address the pressing need for medical care and avoid overwhelming the region’s health care system. Did you know that GBPCA contractors and Local 12 plumbers helped construct the facilities?
They may not be as visible as doctors and nurses, but, whether there is a pandemic raging or not, plumbers are essential workers.
“If people don’t have hot water, they can’t clean their hands properly. And clean drinking water is absolutely essential for human life,” notes Rick Carter, the director of Local 12’s training center. “That’s always been the plumber’s role. Sanitation is the key to civilization.”
In response to the outbreak, virtually all private construction industry projects came to a halt in the middle of March throughout the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Some Local 12 plumbers were among the first to be called back to work when job sites were cleared to reopen in May. That’s because hand-washing stations are among the new COVID safety standard requirements.
“We’ve installed hundreds of sinks. As specified, every job has a lot of them,” says Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. He notes that all of the hand washing stations at construction sites have hot water.
Bringing oxygen lines and hope
American Plumbing and Heating helped build Boston Hope, the temporary field hospital built inside the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. In response to the urgency of the pandemic, the 1,000-bed facility was constructed in less than ten days to treat patients with the virus.
The contractor provided certified brazers and medical gas installers for the oxygen system at Boston Hope. Much has been made about ventilators, which have sometimes been in short supply for patients battling the respiratory virus. But oxygen plays an important role as well.
“It’s part of the hierarchy of treatment with respiratory patients,” says Jim Bent, senior project executive for American. “They are put on oxygen before moving to a ventilator.”
According to Lawrence Garside, the American foreman that oversaw the work on the oxygen system, the plumbing crew only had four days to complete the job. Although the turnaround was remarkably fast, the protocols for medical gas, including strict guidelines for installing, purging, and third party testing of the lines, were the same as at permanent medical facilities. “It has to be,” Garside says. “It involves human life.”
“Medical gas is one of the backbones of any hospital–and it is all under the guise of plumbers,” adds Bent. American, which does a lot of health care projects, is currently working on a large expansion for Boston Children’s Hospital that includes 13 operating rooms. “They have miles of pipe in them,” Bent says.
The 1,000 rooms at Boston Hope were in eight-foot-tall cubicles. In order to pipe gas from the oxygen farm placed outside the convention center, the American plumbers hung lines along a temporary truss system and into a service alley behind the cubicles.
Once the field hospital was up and running, American was called back to the site to quickly install three bathrooms. Nurses were having a difficult time constantly walking hundreds of feet to empty bedpans. The makeshift bathrooms were strategically placed close to the patients’ rooms. The plumbers installed ejector pumps and 300 feet of pipe that emptied into holding tanks outside the convention center.
“We’ve ‘temporarily permanently’ installed the lines,” is how Garside explains the job. Boston Hope opened on April 10 and closed on June 3. The plumbing and medical gas systems will eventually come down, but for now, everything has been capped and left in place in case the overflow hospital needs to be reactivated.
“In all my years as a plumber, I’ve never been involved in anything as unique as this project,” says Garside, who has been working in the industry for 19 years. “I liked the challenge.”
What about office buildings and other places that may have been dormant for months during the pandemic? As buildings prepare to reopen, plumbers often work behind the scenes there as well. They know the protocols to test and run plumbing and water systems that have been sitting idle.
“We make sure that Legionnaire’s and other bacteria hasn’t grown in stagnant water,” says Local 12’s Carter. “People take for granted that you can just turn on the faucet and you get clean drinking water.”