by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune
---- — ROCHESTER — Before the plant operator and foreman of the Rochester Water Department determined a sampling error sent the city into a two-day boil order, establishments relied on their training and desire to cater to customers to adapt.
Randy Wynn, plant operator and foreman of the Rochester Water Department, said a sample of the city’s water supply testing positive for a form of bacteria was likely the result of a sampling error. He said a weekly test conducted at the plant in late August came back positive for coliform, a bacteria present in fecal matter.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which conducts the weekly tests from samples from water plants across the state, recommended a boil order. Residents of the plant’s service area were told to boil water for five minutes before using it for drinking, cooking and bathing.
The recommendation remained in place from Aug. 27 to Aug. 29, Wynn said, adding that the results were not dire enough to require a mandate.
After tests conducted on water in the city’s well system came back negative for coliform, Wynn said the result of the test from the sample taken from the plant was likely an error in the sampling procedure.
“If there were problems with the water, it would have came back with the wells and they all tested fine and passed,” he said.
He added it would be impossible to tell for sure, but that the positive coliform result could have stemmed from a sample container that hadn’t been sanitized correctly.
Woodlawn Hospital CEO John Alley said two people came into the hospital complaining of flu-like symptoms during the time surrounding the coliform incident at the plant.
Alley went on to say the hospital adapted to the boil order by having its staff members wash their hands with water that had been boiled, per IDEM’s recommendation.
The companies that provide the hospital’s surgical instrument cleaning equipment assured him the filters in the systems and the temperatures at which the instruments are cleaned would ensure any presence of coliform in the water would not pose a problem, he said.
Alley added the hospital also discontinued service to water fountains, coffee makers and ice machines. He said the dietary department worked with vendors to provide cases of bottled water.
“It was fairly easy,” he said. “It was one of those things we train for and have drills for for different types of scenarios and different types of disasters. We always have contingency plans.”
Businesses were also affected by the IDEM recommendation, particularly restaurants.
Tiffany Futrell, an administrative assistant with the Rochester & Lake Manitou Chamber of Commerce, said about 20 restaurants are members of the organization.
Nick Berry, a manager at Jarrety’s Place, said the restaurant had six pots boiling on a stove at all times to rotate in for water being used for cooking and dishwashing, while bottled water was served to customers.
“We actually did fine with it,” Berry said. “It set us back a little bit, but once we got in the zone and got everything cranking, it was fine. We embraced the challenge and had fun with it.”
Wynn confirmed three water plant employees were terminated about a week after the boil order, but that it had nothing to do with the coliform incident.
“No one got fired from this incident,” he said.
Wynn declined to go into specifics about the terminations.