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Winning seal of approval

2 welders worked 18 hours straight to fix water main

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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‘‘Do you want to do a little welding?’’ the voice on the phone asked.

That’s how Mark Hutchinson, watching the Bruins in his Plymouth home, heard about a burst water main in Weston.

“Sure,’’ Hutchinson agreed on Saturday, unaware that the rupture had cut off safe drinking water for 2 million people. Hutchinson’s boss, Dennis Ferreira deliberately kept the scope of the problem from the 47-year-old master mechanic.

“I tricked him,’’ Ferreira said jokingly, “because I knew if I told him it would be a long job, he might tell me to forget it.’’

But Ferreira, project superintendent for the Barletta Companies, knew otherwise. He chose Hutchinson and Doug Glover as his primary welders because, with five decades of combined experience, the pair had the skill and stamina to reattach the mammoth pipe that funnels water to much of Eastern Massachusetts.

What Hutchinson and Glover saw when they reached the gaping hole in the ground was unlike any other problem they had ever tackled. Throughout Saturday night, workers had excavat ed, cleaned, and prepped the site for the welders’ arrival at dawn Sunday.

“I called my wife and said, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna be home at 4 o’clock like I thought,’ ’’ Hutchinson recalled.

For 18 exhausting hours, from 9 a.m. Sunday to 3 a.m. Monday, the men toiled relentlessly in a wet, cramped hole, 20 feet deep, contending with unseasonal heat, showers of welding sparks, and electric shocks from wet equipment.

“Trust me, I felt every minute of it,’’ said Hutchinson, a soft-spoken burly man with bulging forearms and a red goatee. “It was a pretty bad environment.’’

Over that time, much of it spent on his back, Hutchinson took two short breaks.

“The first one was long enough to slam down three pieces of cheese pizza,’’ Hutchinson said. “I sucked down some water and went back to work. The second time, I took a Granola bar.’’

The pair, who have worked together off and on for eight years, were spelled during their breaks by Bill Pierce, another Barletta welder. Otherwise, from beginning to end, the welding job belonged to Hutchinson and Glover.

“Everybody had a good comfort level with those guys to just stay with them and get it done,’’ said Ferreira, who added that a subcontractor for Barletta had attached the original coupling eight years ago.

Getting it done meant welding a steel collar to two sections of 10-feet-wide pipe that had separated when the original collar burst apart.

The gap was only 4 inches wide, Hutchinson said, but its devastating effect was to spill 8 million gallons of water an hour into the nearby Charles River.

Once the main flow had been shut off, residual water continued to leak from the pipe and onto the men, who lay on plywood in a 3-foot space beneath the pipe.

“It was difficult to get the water to stop,’’ said Glover, 38, of Rochester, N.H. “We were wet and getting shocked and it wasn’t fun. You’re not used to being on your back and in the mud all the time.’’

Focus, urgency, and pride in performance saw them through, Hutchinson said.

“They asked us if we wanted to take a nap, but how can you take a nap when your adrenaline is running like that?’’ Hutchinson said. As a precaution, a rescue vehicle had been brought to the scene in case the men needed medical assistance.

After the last weld was completed, under floodlights before dawn, the men remained at the site for a few hours as engineers prepared to test the connection. Drained but satisfied, Hutchinson and Glover did not fully realize the magnitude of the problem until they left after more than 24 hours on the job.

“When I got home and saw the news, I saw how it affected everybody,’’ said Glover, who missed a son’s 15th birthday. “It was then that I realized how bad it was.’’

Glover and Hutchinson were back to regular work for Barletta yesterday. “There’s stuff to do here constantly,’’ Hutchinson said at the company’s yard in Roslindale. “I’m sore as hell, but we made it through.’’

Welding and other mechanic’s skills “are pretty much all I know,’’ Hutchinson said.

To him, it’s important work that often goes unrecognized until a problem occurs to disrupt the currents of everyday life.

“When the public sees people digging up and blocking the street, they’re upset,’’ Hutchinson said. “But they don’t realize what it takes to keep the water and sewer flowing. We go places most people would cringe at.’’

Glover, like Hutchinson, has been doing this work since his late teens. But the job in Weston was especially gratifying.

“I was happy to do it, and I’d do it again tomorrow,’’ Glover said. “I like to make broken things better.’’

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