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Burned out

Last week's heat wave drove many people indoors to air-conditioned environments.

It pushed electric grids to capacity, drove water use to near-record levels and scrambled emergency services as workers tended to the heat-exhausted elderly and, in some instances, themselves.

Colonie's public services and crews were worked to the breaking point last week as the heat index registered as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit. From water and sewer infrastructure, to emergency service, the heat took its toll. Some fared better than others.

When it gets this hot, it gets busier and busier. Every after-noon the calls spike during the hottest hours of the day, from noon to 8 p.m., said Jon Politis, chief of Colonie's emergency medical services. "It's been very difficult for the elderly. It puts such a strain on their cardiovascular and respiratory systems." Those systems become stressed and overworked, said Politis.

Be it cardiovascular or town water systems, the impact of high temperatures can be far-reaching.

Improvements to the town's water system over the years have prepared it for the dog days of summer. However, that's not to say the systems aren't feeling the pinch.

"Our flows are moving up. We are pumping at a rate of 20 million gallons per day. The average is 10.7 million per day," said John Frazer, superintendent of the Department of Public Works Division of Latham Water last Wednesday.

Upgrades have pushed plant capacity to as much as 30 million gallons per day. Because of that, the town has not had to impose water restrictions since 2004. In total, five pumps ranging from 400-horse power and lower are screaming to meet the demand and pump treated water to the system's 11 elevated storage tanks. The demand is mainly due to irrigation, and sometimes it can claim a pump or two.

Although pumps usually give telltale signs of faltering before seizing up, if alarms go off, the effect on the system is the same. The pump either quits or is shut down for maintenance. Either way it's offline and not providing potable water and water for fire protection to 76,000 town residents.

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