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Cold causing major problems for homeowners

It’s been a crazy week if you run a heating, plumbing or fuel oil business in upstate New York.

Calls for broken furnaces, frozen or burst pipes and empty oil and propane tanks have inundated businesses as the worst cold snap in at least 15 years brings record low temperatures day after day.

One heating repair business said the emergency calls over the weekend were about five times higher than normal.

“We’ve run over 200 emergency calls over the last week, 100 of them were this weekend alone,” said Gary Reed, director of business operations at Jack Hall Plumbing and Heating in Glens Falls.

Kristen Williams, residential manager at Northern Heating & Air in Queensbury, called the cold spell’s business spike “unprecedented.”

She said a cold winter weekend will usually result in three to five “sheets” of emergency calls from the company’s answering service, but this weekend led to 16 of them.

Customers have been understanding, knowing that the cold has caused region-wide problems, she said.

“Our customers have been great. They understand we are getting a lot of calls, but they need their heat back on,” Williams said.

Furnace repairs have been only part of the business surge. The cold has caused water pipes that are exposed to cold or aren’t well insulated to freeze and, in some cases, rupture. That can lead to flooding, or if not noticed quickly, flooding that endangers basement electrical equipment.

“We have been seeing a lot of burst pipes,” Reed said.

Two municipal water line ruptures, in Chester and Salem, were believed linked to cold weather-related ruptures.

Residents should leave water trickling overnight in connections where there is concern about home pipes freezing, as the movement of water can keep it from freezing. Heating tape is another option for colder areas.

Jack Hall Plumbing and Heating was using social media to inform people of the possible wait and influx of calls, but also to provide tips to homeowners to try a few basic things to try to solve the issue themselves before needing a surface call. Checking whether there was power to the furnace, it had fuel, all doors and compartments to it were closed and that the thermostat was set correctly were recommended.

To help the furnace during cold streaks, Reed recommended that homeowners keep their thermostat at a constant temperature, not lowering it at night, so the furnace or boiler don’t have to work harder in the morning to warm the house back up.

Those looking for a break in the record-breaking cold will get a little respite Wednesday and Thursday, when temperatures will rise into the 20s, but another bitter weekend is expected.

National Weather Service meteorologist Christina Speciale said Wednesday and Thursday mornings won’t be as cold, but after a round of light snow on Thursday, even colder weather will move in for the weekend.

“The weekend is probably going to be colder,” she said. “The high on Saturday may not break zero.”

High winds that will follow Thursday’s storm will make it feel even colder, she added.

Tuesday’s morning low of 25 below zero at Warren County airport broke the record for the day at that NWS station, which was minus 24 set in 1968. (If you are wondering, the all-time record low at the airport reporting station was 35 below zero, set on Jan. 27, 1994.)

Tuesday was the fifth day of the last six where a record low was set at the airport. Only on Sunday, when the low only sunk to “just” 14 below zero, was a record not set.

Snowmobile on car draws internet fame

Freddy Muhlberger didn’t set out to become famous on the internet last Thursday when he wanted to take his snowmobile to Ticonderoga.

But with no truck or trailer available to get the sled from his home in Johnstown to his buddy’s place in Essex County, Muhlberger and a friend used a bit of ingenuity and his “winter beater” 2002 Ford Focus to transport it north.

On the roof of the Ford, that is.

Muhlberger became a viral sensation thanks to drivers who saw him on the Northway that day last week with his Arctic Cat F6 strapped to the roof of the car. There were Facebook posts aplenty as drivers who were surprised by what they saw sought to document it.

Some of the posts included comments that were not flattering, with many people wondering about the safety and sanity of the situation.

But Muhlberger, 20, said he used three ratchet straps, two of them heavy duty, to secure the snowmobile in place, and it didn’t move during what he estimated was a 105-mile trip.

He said he initially topped out at about 40 mph until he got to the Northway, when he was able to get to 55 or 60 mph.

“I passed a few cops, but I didn’t get pulled over,” he said.

(One state trooper who saw the photos on the internet said he couldn’t think of any traffic violations that would apply if the sled was secured to the roof well.)

They got the sled atop the car by backing the car up to a snowbank that was about as tall as the vehicle and rode the sled up the bank onto the vehicle.

So getting it on was easy, but how did they get it off?

That wasn’t as simple for Muhlberger and buddy Maverick Bowman.

One of the skis of the snowmobile got stuck on the car’s rear spoiler as they lowered it down, and they had to rip the spoiler off. But that was the only major damage to the car, with the roof suffering just a minor dent, Muhlberger said.

“One way to get her done!,” Bowman exclaimed on his Facebook page, next to a photo of the car/snowmobile combination.

Whether the return trip will go as smoothly remains to be seen. The snowmobile is still in Ticonderoga.

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Condoms dispute leads to resignations on both sides

QUEENSBURY — Both sides of the Queensbury Senior Center condom flap have resigned.

Director Kathryn Cramer, who placed condoms discretely in the bathrooms with information about high rates of sexually transmitted infections among seniors, resigned without a public announcement. She was replaced by Melissa Pagnotta, who had been the director of travel and activities.

At the same time, the president of the board, Dr. David Schwenker, also resigned.

He was replaced by retired Rev. Monty Robinson, who had made public statements supporting the condom program.

In an interview with WRGB last month, Robinson said the condoms were a way to show that the senior center cared about its people and wanted to offer them options.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Pagnotta, Schwenker and Cramer did not respond to calls seeking comment, but Cramer said last month that she wanted to resign as soon as she found another job. She said she loved working with the seniors and would be heartbroken to leave, but did not want to work for a group that would oppose such an important health initiative.

The issue blew up last month when Schwenker encountered a Post-Star photographer at the senior center and ordered the photographer not to take photos of the condoms. The photographer had already taken photos of seniors doing other activities and Cramer posing by the Christmas tree that invited seniors to buy needed items for other seniors. But Schwenker said the condoms should not be mentioned in a profile of Cramer’s first year as director of the center.

Telling the public about the condoms, which had been in the bathrooms for a year, would create “difficult discussions,” he said.

Cramer objected, noting the high rates of HIV and AIDS infections among seniors. But Schwenker said that just two people in Warren County had been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in the last year, which he said indicated it isn’t a real problem.

In this region, which includes Albany County, seniors received 33 percent of the new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. In raw numbers, 20 seniors were diagnosed in this region in 2015, according to the latest report from the Department of Health.

The state did not release the ages of each newly diagnosed patient by county, since there are so few — just two new patients in Warren County and one new patient in Washington County.

But there are more than just those few patients living there. As of 2015, there were a total of 74 people with HIV or AIDS — in all age groups — in Warren County and 105 in Washington County. The statistics exclude prisoners, who are more likely to have HIV/AIDS than the outside population.

People with HIV/AIDS are living full lives with treatment, which means many patients also live long enough to become senior citizens. In New York, half of all the people who have HIV or AIDS are now 50 or older, the report says.

That’s why the state Department of Health is emphasizing safe sex for seniors. Cramer said seniors at the center were embarrassed by the topic at first, but then began to discuss more openly the need to plan ahead. Widows confessed they hadn’t had to think about condoms for decades, but were now dating again. Over the course of a year, 750 condoms were taken from the bathrooms, indicating that some people were finding them useful, Cramer said.

After the confrontation with Schwenker, Cramer tried to contact every member of the board of directors, asking for support. Seniors supported her, writing letters to the board and to The Post-Star. And some of the members of the board backed her, but not all of them. That’s when she started shopping her resume, looking for other work. She said she feared she was about to be fired, but also said she needed to find a new job so that she could walk out on principle, rather than being forced out.

The senior center is located at the Queensbury Town Hall complex. Supervisor John Strough said he was surprised by the furor.

“I didn’t anticipate this issue would become as large and emotional as it has,” he said. “I thought it would blow over.”

He said the town had lost two valuable resources for seniors — Cramer and Schwenker.

“That saddened me. It’s too bad,” he said.

But he added that Cramer was right to talk about condoms.

“The issue is an important one to talk about. I know we don’t like talking about it,” he said. “It’s a health thing. It’s worth discussing.”

Associated Press