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‘I Was In Crisis Mode’ – CBS Denver - Energy And Water Development Corp

‘I Was In Crisis Mode’ – CBS Denver

DENVER (CBS4) – When Robert Wilson, 64, a heating and air conditioning technician at Denver International Airport, reported for his graveyard shift at 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 5. He may have thought it would be a normal night. It was anything but, as two hours into his shift, he noticed a big problem with DIA’s hot water system.

“I noticed the pressure had dropped,” Wilson told CBS4. At about 10:30 p.m., he and other DIA employees began running diagnostic tests. He quickly arrived at an ominous conclusion.

“This was a really big leak and .. I need to go locate it.”

(credit: CBS)

At the time he didn’t know it, but a two inch high pressure hot water pipe on the B-East concourse expansion had leaked and was spewing scalding hot water on communications equipment, electronics, carpets, drywall, floors and insulation.

It would cause some $50 million in damage and delay the opening of United’s new B-East gates for nine or ten months.

RELATED: ‘Never Seen Anything Like It’: DIA Pipe Breaks, At Least $50 Million In Damage

Although the precise location of the leak would not be known until five hours later, Wilson — backed up by email and text communications shared with CBS4 — said it was immediately known to him and others that somewhere in the airport, water was gushing out of a hot water pipe.

He called colleagues who were on duty at the airport’s maintenance control center multiple times before midnight, telling them the pipe leak was likely “catastrophic, massive and Niagra Falls. I was in crisis mode,” said Wilson.

He says immediately began searching areas in the terminal to see if he could find the source of the leak, but was unsuccessful.

In his first interview about the disastrous leak, Wilson said part of the problem was the airport maintains only a skeleton crew on the graveyard shift, and only he and one other HVAC employee were searching for the leak.

(credit: CBS)

“I knew it was a massive leak someplace. I don’t know if you could be an Olympic athlete and cover the kind of ground. This could be anywhere… in the ceiling, in the basement area. What happens after regular business hours isn’t even an afterthought to them (DIA Managers), it’s just a misplaced sense of priority,” he said.

RELATED: Phase 2 Of Great Hall Project Underway At Denver International Airport

The B-East construction project, measuring 120,000 square feet, was controlled by contractors who did not have personnel on site around the clock.

Now, that’s changing, according to Jim Starling, DIA’s Chief Construction and Infrastructure manager. He said contractors managing the airport’s various expansion projects are being told to have staff on site all night to make sure nothing goes awry.

“It’s good having staff on 24 hours a day so that’s a major step we’ve implemented,” said Starling.

He contends even if someone had been near the leak when it started, it would not have made much difference.

“There would have been pretty significant damage regardless of if we had someone there immediately or not. We would have been able to turn off the water sooner, there still would have been substantial damage,” observed Starling. “Once that water ran for awhile, the damage was done.”

Wilson, who resigned from his airport job Dec. 22, three weeks after the incident, said what happened is “a great big do-over for those people. It’s tragic, heartbreaking and gut wrenching.”

Starling and other DIA administrators have said they believe insurance will pay for the entire $50 million catastrophe. Precisely why the pipe failed is under investigation.

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