Here’s how two Miami area plumbers prepared for Hurricane Irma’s arrival
When Hurricane Irma finally hit Florida on Sept. 10, it struck as a Category 3 storm instead of the Category 5 storm that had roared through the Caribbean. But the state’s residents were preparing for the worst-case scenario, especially after seeing what Hurricane Harvey did to the Houston area.
That included plumbing contractors. On Sept. 8, Plumber magazine spoke with two Miami area plumbers to see how they were preparing for Hurricane Irma.
“One of the things, first and foremost, is that our employees are safe and sound,” said Don Kitchen, general manager of A to Z Statewide Plumbing.
Employees were helping board up each other’s homes in addition to taking care of customers. There was a high call volume of people wanting storm drains cleaned prior to Irma’s arrival.
“Unfortunately, people typically wait until the last minute and that’s the situation we’re in now — a kind of panic,” Kitchen said last week. “Panic mode has hit, and everybody, especially after Houston when they saw all that water, is worried. We’ve got a fleet of vacuum trucks that we use to clean storm drains, lift stations, and other infrastructure, and we’re running around trying to take care of them.”
The firm’s two-story office is about 20 miles inland, and it has 16 service technicians who operate a fleet of four large vehicles — two 4,000-gallon pump trucks and two vacuum trucks. The company also has six 14-foot Isuzu Hackney box trucks, and a handful of vans and pickup trucks. A to Z Statewide Plumbing has past experience dealing with the unpredictable nature of hurricanes, so it was prepared for whatever Irma ended up doing.
“We went through Andrew (in 1992), which was quite devastating,” said Kitchen. “When Andrew came through, it was supposed to hit us up here and ended up hitting down south — about 30 miles away and we did a lot of work in South Miami.”
Throughout the year A to Z uses social media to remind clients about preparing their homes for emergencies, and as Irma was approaching, the company posted three times a day warning clients to get ready.
“When you’re 48 to 72 hours away from a storm hitting,” said Kitchen, “there’s only so much you can do.”
The company purchased its vacuum trucks specifically for helping clients as hurricanes approached the Miami area. In Broward County, building owners are required to get a five-year certification ensuring that their storm drains are cleaned and inspected.
A to Z had employees take company vehicles home with them as opposed to leaving the fleet at the office. This was done in case the office was inaccessible after the storm due to closed roads. All the vehicles and equipment — pumps, generators, etc. — were topped off with fuel beforehand. Clients were also advised to be ready to take pictures and videos of damage to their buildings.
Main Plumbing Services, co-owned by Jose Ayala, is a two-man firm based in Miami that does residential and commercial work.
“The calls that I have received lately are from people who would rather wait until after the hurricane,” Ayala said as he was boarding up the windows of his home on Sept. 8. “It’s a good sign, at least, that they’re not having any issues at this time. After the hurricane, we’ll be out there as quickly as the roads permit.”
Ayala prepared his company for the storm’s aftermath by fueling vehicles and stocking up on parts and materials beforehand, assuming that supply warehouses might be closed directly after the storm.
“We have enough fittings, copper pipes, PVC, and stuff like that for any emergency repairs,” he said. “We’re expecting a lot of broken pipes — water supply and drainage. I don’t know if we’ll need any extra help, but I have friends who are certified plumbers and we help one another in terms of workload. If I cannot assist all of my clients, I will call my friends. They do the same for us when they’re overloaded. We’re a small group that helps each other out.”
Now that both A to Z and Main Plumbing Services are out of hurricane preparedness mode and into cleanup mode, they have been busy.
“Our crews are fully booked,” says Kitchen. “Crews were running 24/7 before the storm and they continue to work long hours. They are pumping out and maintaining lift stations due to power outages and cleaning and clearing storm drains that are plugged up due to storm debris, as well as responding to many water main breaks due to uprooted trees.”