We see them every day but barely notice them. Yet, our lives and property can depend on them.
Will your fire hydrant work when you need it most?
It’s a question 5 On Your Side Investigates wanted to answer, after two recent fires became more challenging for firefighters due to problems with hydrants.
In early July, Collinsville, Illinois, firefighters were called to two homes on Courtland Place, both in flames.
When they tried the closest hydrant, it didn’t have enough water pressure to fight a blaze that size.
So the firefighters tried a second hydrant down the block. It was broken but hadn’t been reported to be fixed.
Finally, firefighters found a third hydrant around the block that worked and provided the water they needed.
“It was not the norm in Collinsville to run up against the water supply that we had for that particular area,” explained Collinsville’s new Fire Chief, Kevin Edmond.
Edmond arrived in January this year, and learned many of the city's more than 1400 hydrants hadn’t been inspected in recent years. In addition, dozens didn’t have any inspection records from the past 10 years.
“The standards that I think should be met is that we look at them once a year,” he said, referring to the National Fire Protection Agency’s recommendation to check hydrants annually.
Those inspections include a full review of the hydrant. During a demonstration for 5 On Your Side, Collinsville firefighters opened a hydrant, greased the lids to make it easier for future access, and flushed the hydrant to check water flow. They tested the water pressure and volume, and recorded the numbers. Any problems are reported to the city’s water department to be fixed.
Edmond said his firefighters have gotten through about 25 percent of the hydrant inspections so far.
“I want to get through the system once a year and that takes extra man power and… the city administration is working with me, the water department is working with me, to make sure that we're on top of this and a leader in Madison county,” he said.
Collinsville’s second challenge is the size of its water mains. Edmond said many of them are small, and provide less water to a hydrant than some fires require.
“The American Association of Water recommends the six inch main for residential areas,” Edmond said. “But many of these older communities had two and four inch mains. That was kind of the standard, way back in the early 1900s.”
Edmond said the city is replacing those old mains with newer, bigger infrastructure as time and funding allows. He said the city just finished a project along Main Street and secured a grant for more improvements in 2018.
Across the river, firefighters in O’Fallon, Missouri, were also met with hydrant problems in a recent fire. In August, they responded to a burning home off Country Life Drive. One woman died in the fire, and several people – including firefighters – were treated for smoke inhalation.
The first hydrant firefighters tried didn’t work properly, but the second one provided enough water to get the job done. At the time of the fire, city officials claimed the hydrant didn’t work due to construction nearby.
Records from O’Fallon shows firefighters annually inspect its more than 3,000 hydrants.
5 On Your Side requested inspection records from dozens of local municipalities.
Des Peres records show about half of the city’s 362 hydrants are inspected on a regular basis. However, the list provided to 5 On Your Side by Des Peres shows 88 hydrants had their last inspection in 2014, at least two years ago.
Kirkwood firefighters said the city’s water department handles all hydrant inspections. A water department official did not return the I-Team's emailed questions.
Ferguson has 571 hydrants. Records from the city show most of those are also inspected annually, but documents provided to 5 On Your Side showed 16 hydrants hadn't been inspected since 2014.
Ferguson fire officials maintain they get to every hydrant every year. They said the gap in the records could be the result of transitioning from paper to digital records, or if a hydrant was taken out of service.
Several other municipalities responded to 5 On Your Side’s request by saying their hydrants are inspected by Missouri American Water or Illinois American Water. Combined, the private companies service millions of customers.
However, both water providers refused to show their fire hydrant inspection records to KSDK-TV.
Why? They said because of "terrorists", citing a public safety concern.