WASHINGTON – Until recently, most Americans weren’t familiar with the term “polar vortex.” We are now after a record-breaking cold front from the Arctic made its way to the U.S. bringing temperatures down to the single digits.
The extreme cold resulted in a host of problems for those living and working in the region. Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) was no exception, as several buildings on base experienced leaking pipes, boilers going down and fire sprinklers breaking.
Though, because of the hard work and perseverance from members of the installation’s Public Works Department, as well as several other organizations and private contractors, JBAB didn’t skip a beat. Many buildings remained opened while work was being performed and no organization endured a significant disruption in operational capability, according to Air Force Capt. Joseph A. Tortella, production officer with the JBAB Public Works Department.
“The weather was extreme. We experienced the worse temperatures seen in the last 20 years,” Tortella said. “We’re always doing as much preventative maintenance as possible, but with the kind of conditions we had, things are unavoidable. Fortunately, we have an amazing team here on base that was able to respond to problems quickly before things got any worse. That’s an amazing accomplishment.”
On Jan. 7, the first day of the freezing cold outbreak, Tortella dispatched members to both of JBAB’s Child Development Centers (CDC) for heat related issues. After isolating the problem to only a few rooms at CDC II, the building was back online after two days of work. CDC I never lost operating capability and was able to accommodate children from the other center without any interruption, Tortella said.
At Blanchard Barracks fire sprinklers had popped due to the cold temperatures. While everyone was evacuated from the building at first as a precaution, full occupancy was returned within six hours after it was determined that only three rooms experienced a leak. Service members were directed to the Chapel Center and were assisted by members of the installation’s Warfighter and Family Readiness Center before going back to their rooms later that day.
Another key area of focus was the installation’s Central Heat Plant, which Tortella describes as a lifeline to the installation. The facility had a significant water leak that was isolated and contained immediately. It was temporarily shut down with full service restored by Saturday night. Public Works Department (PWD) also worked closely with various private contractors to mitigate problems in facilities such as the Base Exchange, which had to temporarily close its food court. A waterline adjacent to the command headquarters building at P-20 was also inspected for damage.
“Despite being undermanned in nearly every area, the response by our PWD was outstanding,” said JBAB Base Commander Navy Capt. Anthony T. Calandra. “They had to work some very long hours to get all the facilities up and running and they had a genuine concern for the customer which drove their efforts.”
Tortella shares that same praise of his team, which worked a minimum of 12 hour shifts to maintain full response. He also credited the help of other organizations around base.
“Everyone helped in some way. There were a lot of departments from PWD and various organizations on base that were fully involved and providing support. It was a very inspiring team effort,” Tortella said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team. They understand the responsibilities we have. They recognize, accept and respond with pride. It’s the best team anyone could ask for.”
For future reference, he said it’s important to have emergency contact numbers on hand and to have good seals on doors and windows to prevent cold air from getting inside. Tips like these go a long way when fighting the cold weather elements, Tortella concluded.