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Massena residents cope with the cold

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MASSENA - It’s that time of the year again: when water-pipes freeze, cars won’t start and gloves and scarves are needed for even that short dash from your car to workplace.

Overnight Monday temperatures dropped to 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Massena, and from there fell even further to minus 13 overnight Wednesday and Thursday. Sometimes it felt even colder than that, as the wind-chill was minus 28 Thursday morning and minus 29 Wednesday morning.

The bitter cold temperatures cause Massena schools to delay the start of classes by two hours, to avoid having students walk or wait for the bus in the worst of the low temperatures. Sub-zero temperatures make things difficult for those who work outside.

Morristown Fire Department Chief Kevin J. Crosby said he “prays he does not get calls.” With below freezing temperatures, hoses have to be run on a constant flow, he said.

“Basically if the water flow stops, the hose has a chance of freezing,” he said. “It can break a line or the hose, and it can fly all over the place and potentially hurt any firefighters standing nearby.”

Firefighters risk falling on icy driveways and frostbite in subzero temperatures.

“We stand outside in thermal gear, but we are not equipped with arctic weather gear,” he said. “There is some insulation but not when it is this cold.”

The cold also presents problems with basic services, such as trash removal. Mike P. Donahue, who handles garbage for the Massena Department of Public Works, was out from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, and spent much of the time on the back of a garbage-truck, where he was fully exposed to the bitter winds. By the afternoon he felt cold, tired and totally drained.

“We’re moving enough to stay pretty warm. But everything’s frozen in the cans, which makes everything more difficult, for sure,” Mr. Donahue said.

Mr. Donahue said the cold was bearable because he and the other driver alternated between driving the truck and riding on the back. But there were times, he said, when the cold was just brutal.

“The coldest is (when we’re emptying) dumpsters, because you’re just standing there,” Mr. Donahue said. “The (Massena) High School is the worst. The cold winds blow across the fields, and it’s just awful.”

The cold also caused pipes to freeze in many residents’ homes. Kevin P. Clemons, a plumber for Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Drain in Massena, said he had cleared at least six frozen pipes in the last few days. Mr. Clemons said it’s typical to get a “surge” of frozen pipes during these cold spells. “It’s about the only time (of the year) we ever get frozen pipes,” he said.

Mr. Clemons recommends insulating any pipes that are exposed to the elements, and if freezing pipes is an ongoing problem in a household it may help to leave the water running at a trickle overnight. Discolored water is a sign the pipes are beginning to freeze, he said.

Car not starting is another common problem that comes with subzero temperatures. Peter A. “Pete” Roberts, of Route 37 Towing, 15128 Route-37, Massena, was backed up with calls the last few mornings, from residents who needed a jump-start for their car-battery.

“A cold-snap takes the life right out of a (car) battery,” Mr. Roberts said.

The only advice Mr. Roberts has is to put a car in a heated garage. He also pointed out that modern cars are far better at compensating with the cold than older cars. “Fuel injection (systems) make a big difference,” he said.

In many calls, Mr. Roberts can see how much the cold frustrates motorists.

“You can see the stress in a lot of people.” he said. “(But) with some people just getting the car started is a relief, (knowing they can) avoid paying that $200, $300 get it towed and fixed.”

Tracy S. Vanarnam, owner of Morristown Fuel and Supply Co., 501 Chapman St., Morristown, said the biggest challenge facing fuel oil providers in below freezing temperatures is just keeping up with the demand.

“A lot of customers don’t plan ahead to have a lot of reserve fuel oil,” she said. “It’s just a matter of getting around to everybody in a timely basis. Let’s just say you can’t run out and go through the night without fuel oil this time of year.

She said her staff works extra shifts to keep up with the demand.

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