Four exhausted men from Minnesota squeeze into one motel room in Framingham.
Nearly every inch of space sits under layers of wet clothes. Ten pairs of gloves lie on the heater. The smell isn’t pleasant, and their work clothes rarely dry. But such is the life of an ice dam removal crew, one of several who have sped more than 1,100 miles from Minnesota to Massachusetts to free New England homes from their dam prisons.
At first, the calls for help trickled in to Minnesota’s ice dam companies. Water was seeping into Boston homes, down walls and under eves. Local roofers were already inundated. But the snow kept coming and so did the ice, and the slow drip of pleas became a deluge. There was work to be done and money in those gutters.
“I went home and told my wife, ‘We’re going to Boston,’ ” said Dmitry Lipinskiy, 31, the owner of Ice Dam Liquidators, based in Brooklyn Park, Minn. “She asked, ‘How come?’ And I said, ‘Because they need us.’ ”
Soon, Lipinskiy would be making around $20,000 in little over a week.
Lipinskiy and three of his roofers drove from Minneapolis to Boston in one night, Feb. 21, straight to their first job. Before they’d even arrived, the crew had lined up 20 appointments with a simple ad on Craigslist. Their rates range from $350 to $450 an hour.
Their little ones back home compare their fathers to the heroes of “Frozen,” fighting Elsa’s treacherous icicles.
Their mornings begin before sunrise, when they don damp gear and scale frozen shingles. At one job, ice formations run the length of a two-story building, creating majestic cascading ice chutes.
Jesus Millan, 41, sprays scalding steam, melting the ice as he inches across the steep incline. It’s a slow business and an exercise in caution. Millan has fallen off roofs seven times in 15 years. He has always gotten back up.
“I always wanted to do something useful with my life,” Millan said. “This serves that purpose . . . helping people before it gets worse.”
The days blur together. Food is devoured — Boston Market three days in a row, TGI Fridays on another night. The guys pass their cellphones around the dinner table, showing off pictures of their kids. They reconnect with their families via Skype.
Craig Koterba, 32, the salesman of the group, brought along his son’s white wool beanie cap. He realized too late that it had a Yankees logo on the back. He hid it under a hoodie at first. Then it turned into a conversation piece with customers.
“My little girl Haven is 20 months old . . . the hardest part is being away from them,” Koterba said. “I’ve never been away this long. I’m going to come back and she’s going to look so different.”
Four days after their arrival, they started a job in Carlisle. It took three days. Icy fangs hung from the high roof. One window was completely obscured behind a curtain of thick, heavy ice.
‘I went home and told my wife, “We’re going to Boston.” ’Dmitry Lipinskiy, owner of Ice Dam Liquidators
“There wasn’t much time in between when the storm came and when they formed,” homeowner Kenneth Martin, 43, said of the ice dams.
The company uses a drone that whirls around a property taking pictures and video as the crew chops up large chunks of frozen water. The weapon of choice is a steamer that plugs into a home’s water system. A hose is hauled onto the roof. The ice weighs hundreds of pounds and could kill someone on impact. Lipinskiy is diligent. As he cuts channels with the vapor, he looks out for the men below. Each yell warnings, a slight Russian accent mingling with a Spanish accent and overlapping a Minnesotan lilt. The clouds of steam can reach temperatures over 300 degrees. Burns are expected.
“It’s exhausting. . . . It’s harder than installing a roof,” Lipinskiy said. “My face gets super red. You’re soaking wet all day long. But I love it. I’m like a big boy. I get paid to melt ice.”
On the second day of work in Carlisle, a few hours before the crew intended to finish, Millan needed a break. It was 20 degrees, he was drenched and freezing. He couldn’t feel his toes in his work boots. He spent the rest of the shift shivering next to a propane heater in the garage.
Lipinskiy is originally from Siberia. He slept in a car for a month in Chicago, then moved to Minnesota, where he found a job. He started his roofing and ice-dam removal business a few years ago and today, he says he’s living “the American dream.”
On Feb. 28, the four friends took a break and drove to New York City. Lipinskiy wanted to see Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.
The region may remain full of Minnesota license plates for a while. The Ice Dam Liquidators passed another ice removal company from Minnesota at a gas station here. Earlier, on their way to Massachusetts, Lipinskiy said they saw another company racing east to meet the demand — for as long as it lasts.
“They’re [among] the only ones doing [steam work],” Kenneth Duval, owner of Duval Roofing in North Reading, said of the Minnesota companies. “Unfortunately, no one else has the equipment. They’re professionals, from what I understand, and I think they’re helping.’’
Duval expects more local companies to invest in steam equipment, but it may be too late to use it widely this season. His company has been shoveling snow off roofs and spreading a salt mixture to help melt the ice.
“It’s not solving the [ice dam] problem like these guys are doing,” Duval said.
As the snow and freezing temperatures continue, so do the messages and phone calls from desperate residents.
“Please help! Water pouring in 3 sides of antique farmhouse,” said one message.
“Please help. Buckets everywhere in this 1890 3 story home,” read another.
“. . . PLEASE HELP! Our home is 240 years old, it can’t take this!”
Attached to these appeals were pictures of icicles the size of stout tree branches. Steve Kuhl, 43, owner of The Ice Dam Company in Hopkins, Minn., calls it “ice dam porn.” He, too, mobilized crews to help Bostonians beat back the ice.
“Minnesota is the ice dam capital of the world, but we’ve seen nothing to the scale of what I see out in Boston,’’ said Kuhl.
In February, the self-proclaimed ice geek watched the analytics on the company website go off the charts. An average month sees at most 2,200 views. This year in February alone, Kuhl’s had over 247,000 views, with the lion’s share from the Boston area.
“People tell us they haven’t slept in days, they’re surrounded by buckets, or they hired a guy who put a hole in their wall,” he said. “There’s going to be two big stories in the near future: the damage done by people who don’t know what they’re doing and all the flooding and interior repairs.”
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