Saturday, 4 May 2019

Up to my waist

May the third; Poland's national holiday. I arrive with Moni at the działka - and to my horror there's water seeping out of the front door. Inside, there's about 2cm, maybe an inch of water with more gushing from under the bathroom washbasin. I rush round to the garage to find the cellar under about 1.2m of water. Quickly undressing to my underpants, I enter the cold, dark, underground room and, submerged waist-deep, I make my way to the stopcock that regulates water flow to the house. It was like being inside a sinking ship with water gushing in at a frightening rate. At least here I could stop it with a 90-degree turn of a handle.

Upstairs and in the house, the water had indeed stopped flowing. The next task was the get the water out of the house as soon as possible, which Moni and I did by shovelling it out at first with wooden boards, then once the water level was down to a few millimetres, with mops and rags. This we did quickly; fortunately the sun was shining, it was relatively warm outside. Within an hour the house was drying. Only damage - the internet router which was standing on the floor pending a shelf being made for it and the risk that the bottoms of the door frames will swell and warp.

Back in the garage, the water level was stable. Below: six submerged steps steps, each one around 20cm in height.

The next few hours were spent baling water out using empty 9-litre paint buckets and a 12-litre bucket that goes with the floor mop. Between us, Moni and I shifted over two and half tonnes of water, but counting the steps, I reckoned that there was probably another five tonnes left. By five pm we were exhausted, so we headed back to Jeziorki.

This amount of physical effort would normally lead to aches and pains the next morning, but my exercising regime put me in good stead, especially the planks, which have massively strengthened my core muscles. All that bending and lifting, carrying and emptying, had not done my back in nor resulted in pains in either arm  or leg muscles.

The following morning, Moni said we should try a different approach, one that a friend of hers had suggested overnight. "Phone the OSP", she said. The Ochotnicza Straż Pożarna (volunteer fire service) is a very significant rural Polish institution; the local fire station (remiza) is frequently used for wedding feasts and other rural celebrations; many have their own brass band.

I had my reservations, chief among which was my innate reticence to ask others for help. Moni took the initiative - on the train from Jeziorki to Chynów, she googled the phone number for the OSP -  I knew there was one in Chynów, but it turned out the HQ was in Grójec. We arrived at the działka, the water-level had neither risen nor fallen since the previous evening, so Moni called. "Flooded cellar in Jakubowizna". "We'll have a crew round in ten minutes," she was told. Sure enough, we went back down to the road to open the gates, and we could hear the siren at the OSP in Chynów, two kilometres to the west. Indeed, the fire engine was within sight down the end of the road within those ten minutes.

Below: the remiza strażacka, Chynów (photo: Google Maps Street View, imaged captured July 2013).

The fire crew were excellent. Moni noted that the day (4 May) was not only her name day, but it was also the feast of St Florian, the patron saint of firemen. Three cheers for that! My concerns about a bunch of grumpy guys turning up were immediately dispelled - the crew were very jolly, very helpful and grateful that the siren had wrested them away from domestic chores. Below: the fire engine - note the registration plate - W1 OGIEŃ (ogień = fire). The fire engine was paid for by EU funds, something the firemen were keen to point out.

A pump was taken to the cellar, lowered into the water, the hose put outside, and within minutes the water level started to fall markedly. Soon it was down to ankle-height, below which the pump could no longer draw water. One of the firemen, Pan Tomek, was a plumber; he took a look in the house under the washbasin and immediately saw the root cause - one of the coupling valves had burst, not taking the pressure from the mains. He said that the valve was too short (not robust enough) and the thread wasn't wrapped with hemp but with string. Cost-cutting by the plumbers 15 months ago resulted in this flooding... Within half an hour, Pan Tomek was back with a new valve and, after helping Moni and I empty the rest of water from the cellar floor, he'd installed it and everything was back in working order.

Our experience with the firemen of Chynów was first-rate - they proved themselves to be highly efficient, experts in what they were doing and above all helpful human beings. Good to know they're around and at hand should their assistance ever be needed again.

Phew. To quote from The Simpsons quoting Tennessee Williams, "You can always depend on the kindness of strangers," for me this episode has resolved the question I posited at the end of Lent; how should I balance the notions of asking for help with offering help. Fearing bombardment with pleas for all sorts of assistance from all and sundry, I have tended to prefer self-reliance, never asking anyone to help me with anything. And now I have found myself in a situation of needing help, and the help came, and was excellent and efficient and not expecting anything in return. As the fire chief said - "you pay your taxes, this is what you're buying". Indeed - I paid my annual property tax to the gmina in Chynów in February; this tangible demonstration of  the local community in action has brought me closer to the people and the spirit of place.

This time last year:
Luton Airport's never-ending modernisation works

This time four years ago:
Another office move

This time five years ago:
Workhorse of the Free World's Air Forces over Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Looking for The Zone, in and around Jeziorki

This time eight years ago:
I awake to snow, on 4 May

This time 12 years ago:
This is not America. No?


Ian said...

Glad it all worked out well in the end. Good to know there are people who will go out of their way to help when needed. Hope there is not too much water damage.

Anonymous said...

What was the cause of this flood in your country bolt hole? Your intrepid efforts are worthy of significant respect.

Frater no calloutfee III

Michael Dembinski said...


Worth finding out where your nearest OSP is located! I was there yesterday evening, when I saw a small plume of smoke on the northern horizon (Adamów Drwalewski?), and soon after I heard the siren in Chynów, then the siren of a fire engine on its way...

@ Frater NCFIII

Cause was a poor-quality valve installed between the mains and the washbasin tap in the bathroom. It was two threads short of what should be expected and was taped with silicon tape rather than hemp, which Polish plumbers swear by. Standard Operating Procedures for Country Bolt Hole now include "Turn Off Water At The Mains Before Leaving."

Anonymous said...

Stout wisdom. My father swore by this methodology. At every family holiday departure , the water would be turned off at the mains and during the summer, the electricity as well. However, human experience becomes enriched by such happenings as yours, and your direct action and the description of dealing with it does yew credit. "ACTION STATIONS", as Captain Haddock would have said.

Frater nocalloutfee III