The Case of the Flooded Felon
A comedy of engineering errors results in major damage to a new MRI and waterboards a convicted felon.
A convict from the state penitentiary was brought by sheriff’s deputies to a hospital for an MRI. The deputies were waiting outside the MRI room while the MRI was in process when a loud noise and banging was heard within the MRI room. The deputies, thinking an escape attempt was in progress, rushed into the room only to find a broken fire sprinkler pipe directly above the MRI discharging the full output of the hospital’s 200 HP fire pump onto the new MRI and the head of the drowning convict. The convict was rescued, but the new MRI was badly damaged resulting in a $1+ million loss. TI was requested to determine the cause of damage.
TI’s site inspection found that the cause of damage to the new MRI facility was that CPVC pipe used for fire sprinklers within the MRI room was improperly assembled by means of vastly excessive assembly cement that ran down the pipe and caused a stress fracture. First, the side of the pipe blew out and the resulting side thrust of the water then broke the pipe off at the elbow where it was improperly installed.
The technical consultant for the errant fire protection contractor’s insurer claimed the pipe burst due to water hammer events that frequently occurred. TI installed a precise pressure transducer in the water piping near the MRI room and used its data acquisition system to record and store pressure measurements 10 times per second for a period of several weeks. Voluminous data showed neither water hammer events nor even pressure surges.
TI recommended and supported subrogation against the contractor for shoddy workmanship and against the fire protection engineer, first for designing a wet fire protection system over the very expensive MRI, and second, for specifying CPVC pipe over the expensive asset rather than non-magnetic stainless steel or brass pipe.