The plumber who saved Christmas

Water began pouring into the basement of the northeast Baltimore home just before nightfall on the coldest Christmas Eve in 40 years.

Inside, two mothers, three adult children and a 5-year-old boy panicked when their home was flooded. All are Honduran asylum seekers looking for a better life in the US; nobody speaks english. They live temporarily in a home owned by Asylee Women Enterprise, an organization that helps immigrants rebuild their lives in Baltimore.

With most of the organization’s employees out of town over the holiday, the group called 911, who used an interpreter to send fire crews to shut off the water. A social worker began looking for a plumber to fix the pipes, which had frozen shut due to the falling temperatures. The calls for help went unanswered.

News of the families’ plight finally reached Danni Donovan, who with her wife Donovan owns WaterWorks, a full-service plumbing company serving the Baltimore area. She sped to the scene around 4 p.m. and spent Christmas Eve fixing the burst pipes. She returned home to her family just after midnight.

“It was a household with women and children, their first Christmas they experience without extreme oppression; They should be able to have running water,” said Donovan, who took up the craft as a teenager and co-founded the company in 2020. “The plumbing in Maryland is not designed for such low temperatures.”

Laura Brown, executive director of Asylee Women Enterprise, said the organization’s plumbing service was closed for the holiday, leaving the leadership team in a scramble for another professional. The household members have never experienced a winter abroad, Brown said. They sent her a video of the damage.

“The video I saw was horrible,” Brown said. “Finally… Danni replied. And I don’t think she had much other information. Everything is now stable for the next few weeks.”

Plumbing, Donovan conceded, requires skill, long hours, and a willingness to delve deep into the messy quarters of houses and homes that others may be reluctant to touch. Unspectacular — and thankless — as it may be, it’s a vital service but a slower-growing industry, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Increasingly colder temperatures can only increase the demand for labor.

Temperatures fell to a low of 6 degrees on Saturday morning, with a wind chill of just 2 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures haven’t fallen this low over the Christmas weekend since 1983, and the extreme cold has already surpassed last season’s record, said National Weather Service meteorologist Luis Rosa.

With the cold comes a risk of disaster, ranging from dangerously low body temperatures to stress-related injuries such as frostbite. It also puts residents at risk of water emergencies as pipes and other pieces of old city infrastructure freeze.

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Donovan said she usually takes a few calls a week for emergencies; She has received at least 40 urgent calls since Friday. She was able to answer about a fifth of these, in addition to other appointments already scheduled.

“There is a shortage of plumbers in the world and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get people to come to your house unless more people are taking up the trade.”

As a queer plumber in an industry usually male-dominated, Donovan says sometimes she has to work extra hard to earn clients’ trust. “That’s what you get when women take over the man’s world.”

The Christmas Eve call saw several leaks that Donovan patched and fixed. She used Google Translate to communicate with the families, who offered her celebratory food and drink as a token of their gratitude, including a box of Little Debbie Snack Cakes.

“Most people take their systems for granted,” Donovan said. “We try to help our community as much as we can.”

Tips from the plumber

To avoid catastrophe if temperatures continue to drop, Donovan recommends the following steps:

  • Turn the heater on as high as you can stand or afford: the pipes will not freeze in heated areas.
  • Use space heaters in areas where frost is likely to occur, such as B. in rooms with plumbing lines that share walls with the outside of the house.
  • Make sure the house is properly insulated, which reduces resistance to heat flow.
  • Keep a faucet dripping whenever possible to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.
  • Open plumbing closet doors that run through kitchens and bathrooms to allow heat to reach the pipes.
  • Find your emergency shut-off valve and learn how to use it for water-related emergencies; Otherwise, be prepared to call 311.
  • Use a hair dryer to heat frozen pipes if you can reach them.
  • Invest in heating tape to keep the pipes warm during the winter months.
  • Have basic tools handy — like screwdrivers and channellock pliers — for emergency use.
  • Consider booking an annual inspection with a plumber to catch problems early.

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