From pesky critters to hospital tools

Whenever someone first meets one of our engineers, they are inevitably asked, “what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?” and, while we obviously won’t share identifying details, every engineer has a story! In part two of our series, we chatted with three of our materials engineers, Alejandro Mejia, M.Eng., P.Eng. from Toronto, Colin Allison, P.Eng., from Edmonton and, Harvey West, FEC, P.Eng., from our Vancouver office, to ask them about the memorable files they’ve encountered throughout the years:

Water, water everywhere

Most people expect that if something was not installed correctly, you’ll notice an issue right away… That’s not always the case! In the insurance community, toilet supply lines might be the bane of property adjusters’ existence. A few years ago, one of our engineers attended a home that had flooded with water from a toilet supply line for at least 8 hours while the homeowners were at work. There was so much pressure that the water was hitting the ceiling! At an average flow rate in residential plumbing of 8-12 litres/min, that’s over 5500 litres of water! Since leaks rarely start on the ground floor, it is always at the top of the house, this particular one started in the second-floor bathroom, flooding a large amount of the second floor, main floor, and basement. The toilet had been installed years earlier and had never shown any signs of leakage. So, the engineer eliminated the usual suspects; defects in the plastic, mechanical breakage, cross-threading, etc. Exhausting every avenue, he compared the line to some samples and discovered that there was almost no impression on the gasket. The final verdict was that the supply line had just never been properly seated, and after years of use had popped off.

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes

Most property adjusters have seen stress corrosion cracking come up in reports at one time or another. Usually, it is related to pipe failures and water losses… In this case, it was something a little more surprising: surgical instruments! CEP was called in to determine why several instruments had fractured, and we found that the autoclaving procedures used to sterilize them were affecting the stainless steel they were made of. The hospital subsequently changed the sterilization procedure, which stopped the breakages. Our story doesn’t end there, though… A few years later, we were retained to determine the identity of a metal fragment in a patient’s knee. By comparing the fragment’s fracture surface to instruments from the previous file, our engineer was able to identify the exact instrument the piece came from!

Rowdy raccoon

Sprinkler systems are commonly used for fire protection, especially in larger buildings, and there are multiple types, including wet-pipe, dry-pipe, deluge, and pre-action. These different types of systems are used in different settings, and for very specific purposes. A dry-pipe system is generally used when there is a chance of freezing, and it is usually filled with pressurized air or nitrogen. As the name implies, these systems are not normally supposed to be filled with water, but in this case, we were called in to investigate a freezing failure of a dry-pipe system. How does a sprinkler system that isn’t filled with water freeze? With a little “help” from a furry friend! Over the holidays, the building was unoccupied by humans, but a curious raccoon made its way inside and was able to turn a valve on the sprinkler system. Water then filled the sprinkler piping, and ice blockages formed, damaging several sprinkler heads. Though the sprinkler system was later drained of the water and reset, the ice blockages remained, holding the air pressure. The condition of the sprinkler system was only found later when the ice melted, and water rushed out of the damaged sprinkler heads! How did we know it was a raccoon? We found the footprints! This story goes to show the importance of taking overall scene photos and looking at all the evidence when determining the overall cause of a loss.

From pesky critters to hospital tools, our materials engineers see all sorts of losses caused by all manner of mechanisms. It isn’t always easy to figure out the cause for some losses, and they often need to go through mounds (or in some cases, puddles) of evidence and records to find it.

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