Hundreds of fire hydrants throughout central Ohio in need of repairs
It was a two-alarm fire in January. Ten townhomes were destroyed and 34 people were left homeless. Residents of the Little Turtle area of Westerville watched firefighters not only battle the fire, but fight with the hydrant.
"They had the water running and the guy came back here and said, 'We're not getting enough water pressure,'” resident Sharon Taynor said.
"It just wasn't normal, you know. It's usually normal pressure and that just wasn't happening," resident Anne Akimien stated.
There was too much demand and too little water. But why?
"The thing is with the hydrants, a lot of them, if they work, they work. And if they're not working, we're not going to know at the second that something happens to that hydrant," Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin said.
It’s not just low pressure creating problems in our area.
On November 12, 2016, firefighters were called to battle a blaze on Stimmel Road.
"We were shoveling water in. As companies would come in, they would use up the water that was on their vehicles," Battalion Chief Martin explained.
He went on to explain that there was no fire hydrant within a mile of the fire.
"We laid a mile of hose to get to that one first, and that took a good 20 minutes," Martin said.
Columbus firefighters then spent time searching for a working hydrant. Battalion Chief Martin said they had to lay an additional 150 feet of hose to get to the next one.
Martin said they’ll fight any fire, but the Columbus Fire Department doesn’t control the hydrants. The Columbus Division of Water manages the 3,500-mile network of underground valves and water mains that are connected to 25,000 fire hydrants.
“We all have to make sure when we're repairing our hydrants that they're put in service in a certain amount of days,” Brian Haemmerle, Assistant Administrator at Columbus Division of Water, said. “And we don't want two consecutive hydrants to be out of service at any given time."
But as 10 Investigates uncovered, out of 25,000 fire hydrants in our area, from July through December of last year, 1655 of them needed repair – some sitting for more than six months.
"Part of it's a volume issue. You know, just having that sheer number of hydrants out there, and going out there and fixing them," Haemmerle explained.
10 Investigates’ Jerry Revish asked: “[Are you] pretty confident that the city is protected?"
"I feel it's very protected. I think we have a very good relationship with the fire department and regular interaction," Haemmerle said. "The fire department, many times will just call our control center and say, 'Hey, how are things going? Things are looking alright.' And as well, we may even call them."
Haemmerle also explained that it’s important to get hydrants flagged if there are problems or issues, otherwise it won’t get repaired.
"Our goal is to make sure that the fire hydrants are usable," Haemmerle said.
Because if a hydrant is not working, the results can be terrifying.
Martin said residents don’t need to worry even when a hydrant is not working because there is always a plan.
"We'll set up a couple engines on the scene to fight the fire, and meanwhile other engines are stopping at a hydrant two miles away filling up and then heading back in and dumping their water to trucks on the scene," Martin explained.
If you notice and issue or problem with a hydrant in your area, here’s how to report it >>
Our 10 Investigates team made some calls. Within a few hours, the hydrant was fixed and the Water Department Foreman for the City of Bexley assured us that the hydrant is in good working order.