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Niagara Falls hospital patients can't flush toilets because of water main break

Since Saturday, patients above the first floor of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center have been unable to take showers or flush their toilets because of low water pressure.

Hospital President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo blamed the situation in the seven-story building on inadequate water pressure, resulting from a water main break that also kept Niagara Falls High School closed Monday and Tuesday.

He said nurses and other workers have been carrying water in buckets to the upper floors to flush toilets by pouring water into them. City firefighters also took part in the bucket brigade at times, according to hospital spokesman Patrick J. Bradley.

"We went to Home Depot and bought a lot of buckets," Bradley said.

School Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie said the high school will reopen Wednesday, after normal water pressure was restored.

But farther downtown, that's not yet the case for the hospital or for two nearby nursing homes, Schoellkopf Health Center and Niagara Rehabilitation Center.

A 36-inch concrete water transmission main burst about 11 p.m. Friday, after three valves failed near the corner of 47th Street and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Robert Drury, the Niagara Falls Water Board superintendent of operations, said the agency is supplying the hospital with water at reduced pressure, but the layout of the city water system prevents it from boosting the pressure to normal levels until the break is repaired.

Water Board Chairman Daniel T. O'Callaghan said he thinks pressure should be back to normal "hopefully by Thursday."

Drury said the Water Board worked with the city Engineering Department last weekend to prepare bid documents for an emergency repair contract. Those bids are to be opened at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and repair work will start immediately.

"If they have to work around the clock, they'll work around the clock," Drury said.

"As soon as the contract's awarded, they'll mobilize, start excavating in the different areas that they have to excavate, expose the pipe completely and as the parts come in, they'll just put them together," O'Callaghan said.

Drury said contractors were called to the scene as early as Saturday and checked out the problem, but they all had to scrounge for replacement parts before they could bid.

"This is out of the power of all municipalities. No municipalities are able to fix this," Drury said.

Some municipalities keep contractors on retainer to carry out emergency infrastructure repairs, but O'Callaghan said the board happened to be in the process of seeking bids for such retainers when the big pipe burst.

Drury said the Water Board had received complaints of low water pressure from nine residential customers. In addition to the high school, the hospital and the nursing homes, Seneca Niagara Casino was among a small number of commercial users affected.

Drury said the city restored water pressure to the high school by using water pumped in by the Niagara County Water District, but the county cross-link is too far from the hospital or the other downtown customers for the water to reach them at full pressure of 45 pounds per square inch.

The medical center has been receiving water at 32 pounds per square inch, Drury and Bradley confirmed.

"What happens inside that building, it's their issue," O'Callaghan said. "They could implement booster pumps if they want to increase pressure."

"Obviously, we would have hoped there would be an emergency plan set up by the Water Board that they could have used to address this problem," Ruffolo said.

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