Swamped firefighters need the public's help getting water delivered to those with frozen water pipes, says the union chief.
Firefighters are asking those who are able to drive to fire-paramedic halls to pick up their own water to do it so crews can concentrate on delivering to those who cannot drive.
"We are proud to help out in times of crisis but we have so many seniors, shut-ins and others who need our assistance it will help us out if able-bodied people can drive to the fire hall and pick up their own water," said Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters, in an email to the Free Press.
"That way it will allow us to get to the people who need it the most.
"We are absolutely getting swamped with water-delivery requests.
'We are absolutely getting swamped with water-delivery requests. We have some people we are delivering water to who have not had water in days and cannot get water themselves'
"We have some people we are delivering water to who have not had water in days and cannot get water themselves."
With 868 Winnipeg homes and businesses with frozen pipes and no running water as of Sunday evening, the city has offered the services of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to deliver potable water in 20-litre jugs. For those who have already contacted the city to report frozen pipes, city staff are phoning to ask if they need potable water at their home or business. For those who do, arrangements will be made to have water jugs delivered to them.
When the water is delivered, a paramedic will determine whether the loss of water is causing any public health issues, the city said in a weekend news release.
If there is a health concern, the resident will be referred for further followup.
The city said there have been 387 water deliveries as of Sunday evening and added almost 5,000 properties are at risk of frozen water pipes. City workers are contacting property owners by telephone, and uniformed members from the fire department will be hand-delivering notices to the at-risk property owners.
Those who receive a notice are being asked by the city to start leaving one cold-water tap running at a trickle at all times. Those water pipes at risk of freezing will remain vulnerable over the next few months.
Deep snow is insulating the frost underground and keeping it from thawing, said Forrest.
"Even if it warms up now it could keep dropping another six inches," he said.
The city is telling property owners who do not receive a notice warning them about frozen pipes not to let their water run. The city's sewer and water system could be overwhelmed, causing even more problems for already stressed infrastructure and workers.
"This has been the winter from hell," said Forrest.
The frost depth in the city has reached more than two metres in some locations, thanks to the unusually cold temperatures this winter. The ground usually does not freeze below 1.5 metres.
During a normal winter, about 100 properties experience frozen waterlines.
The city said in a release Sunday when citizens call 311, they will be asked about their water needs, told of complimentary showers and told about receiving a temporary water supply from a neighbouring property.
As of Sunday evening, the city has installed 173 temporary waterlines.
City crews are working non-stop, seven days a week, to thaw water lines, and using all available staff, the city said Sunday.
It is also offering free access to showers at all 12 indoor pool locations and the Fort Rouge Leisure Centre at 625 Osborne St. for those without water due to frozen lines.
"Citizens dealing with frozen pipes should simply identify themselves as such to pool staff at the front counter," the city said.
Locations and operating hours for the shower centres are posted on Winnipeg.ca/frozenpipes.
-- with files from The Canadian Press