Lightning strike cripples systems at Falmouth Town Hall

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FALMOUTH — It’s almost business as usual again at Town Hall after a lightning strike caused thousands of dollars in damage to many of the building’s systems and much of its equipment.

The problems were discovered Sunday morning, Oct. 4, when an employee noticed the elevator was stuck between floors, Code Enforcement Officer Albert Farris said. The employee called dispatch which then notified Farris.

“I came down thinking I needed to reset the elevator and found no phones, no computers and no water,” Farris said Tuesday.

Farris said he believes the building was saved from a serious fire by the grounding systems from the radio tower used when the police station was in the building and the separate E-911 tower.

“The only rational explanation for where the lightning hit is on the lightning rod on top of the tower and then traveled down and the pulse went through the building and to the ground,” he said. “It is clear the lightning did not hit the building and there’s no evidence it hit the ground, either.”

The strike fried the computer network and the digital phone system tied into it. Some of the computers will need new circuit boards. The over-current from the electrical system disabled the fire alarm system. All fax machines were ruined, as well as several printers. Security cameras throughout the building “popped” and will most likely need to be replaced, Farris said. The emergency generator circuit also blew, as did the emergency transfer switch that automatically starts the generator and disconnects from the electrical grid when power is lost.

In addition, a coupling on a water pipe that supplies water to the building burst. The break in the pipe caused water to pour into the crawl space of the building, requiring workers to spend nearly five hours using two submersible pumps to clear the space of water and to reach the broken pipe for repair. Public Works on Sunday afternoon dug up the water line to connect to a temporary water service. The strike did not affect the building’s sprinkler system, which gets its water from a separate line.

And only Tuesday morning, Farris said, they discovered the cover to an exterior electrical connection box to the parking lot lights had been blown off and shattered by the power surge.

“We found one piece (of the cover) six or eight feet away and haven’t found the other piece,” he said.

Since the alarm system designed to alert the town of any problem to the building was also rendered inoperable by the strike, Farris said the employee’s decision to come into work on Sunday morning saved the building from further damage that could have been caused by flooding. The early discovery also enabled workers to begin repairing the damage.

“We were able to piece things together enough to be open (Monday),” Town Manager Nathan Poore said. “It was great to see how everybody pulled together.”

Though all the town’s records are backed up electronically off-site, if the strike had sparked a fire, the loss of original property records would have been a tragedy, Poore said.

When pressed, Farris said he thought the cost of the damage would be around $10,000. But Poore said he thinks that may be a conservative estimate.

“Depending on what happens to the generator, $10,000 could be light,” Poore said. “If I had to guess, I’d say more.”

The damage is covered by insurance, he said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or