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A Portable Pump Rescues an UWS Condop’s Boiler Room

Emily Myers in Bricks & Bucks on October 18, 2023

Upper West Side

Oct. 18, 2023

When the super of an Upper West Side condop saw a foot of water in the boiler room during last month’s heavy rains, he immediately sounded the alarm to the building’s property manager, Mila Skidelsky. A managing director at AKAM, Skidelsky knows firsthand the consequences of a flooded boiler room. She took over management of the condop after Hurricane Ida in 2021, when torrential rains caused massive outages to the building’s power, heat and hot water.

This time around, with the city’s drains once again backed up from the surprise flash flooding, water was pouring into the condop’s boiler room, and the sump pumps were overwhelmed. The demand for plumbers, compounded by flooded highways and streets, meant a delay of up to three hours to get an emergency pump to the building.


Fortunately, Skidelsky brainstormed a solution: borrowing a portable pump from a super in another building within the AKAM network. By the time Skidelsky arrived with the equipment, the floodwaters had risen to four feet. The suction and discharge hoses were put to work. “The pump quadrupled the amount of water going out,” she says. That prevented the boiler from being submerged, and within four hours, the water had all been removed.


Having an emergency pump at the ready is an important flood management strategy for any building, according to Jeffrey Gross, regional vice president at property restoration company First Onsite. Options include submersible electric pumps or gas-powered pumps (which must always be run outdoors, never inside a building). In addition, periodically inspecting the building’s sump pumps is recommended. “They almost never run, so they should be checked and tested at least twice a year,” Gross says.


It’s also important to have a plan in place on where to pump excess water. Rainwater that isn’t visibly contaminated can typically be pumped into the street, but water polluted with oil or sewage requires the services of specialized disposal companies. In some cases, the contaminated water can be skimmed off the top, put in drums and set aside for collection. 


While signing an emergency response contract with a property restoration company in advance may seem like a smart move, Gross cautions against it. “The truth is, it’s first come, first served,” he says, explaining that once flood management teams are dispatched and committed to a job, it’s impossible to redirect them to other clients. Even so, it makes sense to have a few vetted vendors to call in an emergency. 


When the waters receded at the flooded Upper West Side condop, the total damage amounted to a failed motor on the boiler and some broken valves. Skidelsky puts the cost of repairs at around $15,000 — a fraction of that caused by Hurricane Ida, when repairing the flooded elevators and replacing the boiler not only came with a price tag in the hundreds of thousands, but also impacted insurance coverage by more than doubling the condop’s premiums.


In Ida’s wake, the building approved a three-tiered flood-mitigation plan that includes the installation of upgraded backflow preventers, check valves, additional sump pumps and flood doors. That work has yet to begin. But thanks to the borrowed pump, “No-one had a loss of power or loss of heat, and there was no elevator damage,” Skidelsky says. Still, for good measure, she bought two new pumps for the building that day.

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