Emergency services work all day at Courthouse Annex

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By Karen Hall


Lewisburg Fire and Police departments responded to the Courthouse Annex about 10:40 a.m. Thursday after receiving a call from two maintenance workers who were trapped in the elevator.

The square was deserted at the time, with all county offices and most businesses closed due to Wednesday's rain which turned to ice and snow during the night.

The fire trucks were all fitted with chains, and the police used their four-wheel-drive Hummers to get to the Annex without sliding on the icy roads.

Friday morning Lewisburg Fire Chief Larry Williams explained what happened.

He said the sump pumps in the basement of the Courthouse Annex stopped working, and the basement began to fill up with rainwater, eventually reaching a depth of about two feet.

Two maintenance men got in the front elevator to go to the basement and check on the sump pump, but as the elevator went down, it touched the water and this cut off the power.

The men called for help from the phone in the elevator. (All elevators have a phone to use to call for help which goes straight to 911.)

Firefighters pried open the elevator doors on the ground floor and were able to extract the maintenance men through the escape hatch in the top of the car.

They weren't trapped for more than a few minutes, but emerged into the frigid morning with wet feet because water from the basement was running into the elevator car.

An additional problem, Williams said, was that water extinguished the burners of the boiler in the basement, causing a release of carbon monoxide.

The fire department ventilated the area and "it aired out OK," said Williams.

Then firefighters and utility workers turned their attention to pumping water out of the basement, and this continued until about 4:30 p.m. Equipment was parked on First Avenue South.

In addition to police and firefighters, a lot of people were involved, Williams said. This included personnel from Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Department, Marshall County Board of Public Utilities and the Emergency Management Agency. County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, also came to the Courthouse Annex to do whatever they could.

In a phone conversation Monday morning, Liggett described the damaged done by what he estimated was 40,000 gallons of water.

"One simple piece of equipment failed," he said, of the sump pump, and this led to damage to both elevator motors and the boiler, as well as the loss of old files stored in the basement.

The Courthouse Annex, which was built in the late '60s, is designed without external gutters and downspouts. The water which lands on the flat roof goes down to the basement through pipes in the walls and ends up in a water storage area.

From there, the sump pump moves it up and out of the building. The pipes for the water come out through a grating on the south side of the building. When the water is being pumped out there, it runs across the sidewalk and into the gutters, and eventually the storm drains on First Avenue South.

"All these years, it's worked pretty well," said Liggett.

He said he was pleased, however, with the way everyone worked together, in difficult conditions, to get the problem taken care of and the Annex ready to open on Monday morning.