With news footage of two Lynn men escaping a frightening snow-induced roof collapse last week still fresh in their minds, city officials say they are taking a proactive approach to clearing snow and making sure public buildings are safe this week.
Sixty-plus inches of snow have already blanketed the city this winter and another foot of snow fell on the city this week. The accumulation has caused plenty of problems on the roads and sidewalks, but it is the build up of heavy, wet snow in areas most people can't see- like rooftops and in front of heating vents- that can be the most dangerous.
City Building Commissioner Kevin Goggin said Monday that city crews have been working to clear as much snow as possible from the roofs of schools and other public buildings, a task that seems endless as snow continues to fall in excess on a weekly basis.
"Generally we are in the process of making sure the roofs are as clean as they can be and that all of the drains and vents around the building are clear before the rest of the snow gets here," he said. "We are really trying to take proactive action to make sure that we do whatever we can to make these buildings safe before we get any more snow."
Along with keeping public buildings clear, Goggin said the city has reached out to local businesses, especially those in Centennial Park where many industrial structures resemble the Greater Lynn Senior Services Garage that collapsed in Lynn, and urged them to remove as much snow as possible from the roofs.
Still, the below-freezing temperatures that have plagued the area in between snow storms have made the removal more challenging, freezing over any snow that has melted and creating a layer of ice that in some areas is immovable.
"Moving the snow is obviously best when it's not packed down," said Goggin. "But the problem is that you really don't know what is down there. You can shovel off the top layer, maybe 3- to 4 inches of snow, and then the rest is all ice under it. As long as it doesn't rain it is usually allright for us because we can just move the snow. But once it gets wet and packed down it just gets so heavy. It is tougher to move and it makes it more of a danger for the roof."
Despite the massive snow accumulation the city has been fairly lucky to avoid a major incident like the Lynn collapse. Fire Chief Steven Pasdon said the department hasn't had to respond to any calls of structural emergencies thus far, but acknowledges that many of the older buildings in the city, if not maintained properly, can be ticking time bombs.
"All of the structures are a concern for us with all of the snow we've had, it is a dangerous situation," he said. "When these buildings were built the engineers obviously took in to account where we live and that there would be additional weight because of snow on the roof, but as the building grows older and maybe gets a little weaker, and we've had a lot of snow this year, too, you increase the chances of something happening the longer the snow stays up there."
One of those old buildings is the Peabody Institute Library where officials were forced to close the second and third floors this month following damage caused by the snow. Goggin said snowfall from the January 13 storm weakened the structure and forced the city to make spot emergency repairs to the roof. Complete repairs won't be on the agenda until the spring when the city can better gauge the damage and cost of the project.
Roof collapses and structural safety are a major concern, but moving the snow and providing access to emergency vehicles is also a top priority for the city. Pasdon admitted he was worried about the excessive amount of snow on the streets causing poor visibility for motorists and said there is a very real chance that the department vehicles may not be able to pass down narrow streets if the snow banks become any wider.
"My biggest worry for us right now is the roads. The visibility and safety of drivers with those high snowbanks- there is no where else to put the snow- and also from the standpoint of getting our trucks down the streets," he said. "Obviously our trucks are very big and with the snow piled up as wide as it is it provides a challenge. If someone doesn't adhere to the city's parking ban and leaves the car on the street then there is no way we will be able to get down a narrow street if we have to."
Both men said it is important for residents as well as businesses to pay attention to the snow on their roofs and clear it if possible, even if that means hiring someone to do it for them, but also warned of other dangers of large accumulations of snow.
Goggin stressed the importance of keeping heating and dryer vents clear of all snow no matter the height of the pile as to avoid a serious carbon monoxide threat.
"The vented heating systems are a huge problem in this situation," he said. "Most of them are four to five feet off the ground so people don't necessarily think they have to worry about it, but how high is this snow going to be now? A lot of those piles will block those vents. It is absolutely important to keep all of them clear or else there can be a very serious carbon monoxide situation."
Pasdon said residents should shovel out drains whenever possible to prevent clogging and flooding, and urged anyone who is elderly or not feeling well to find someone else to shovel their sidewalk.
"I would just say that residents need to be very careful when they shovel," he said. "That snow can be very heavy and especially the elderly should not be out shoveling."