Piedmont officials work on backlog of broken hydrants
by Laura Gaddy
Oct 30, 2013 | 3537 views |  0 comments | 100 100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sixty-two of Piedmont's 500 hydrants are damaged, according to city officials. Photo by Bill Wilson.
Sixty-two of Piedmont's 500 hydrants are damaged, according to city officials. Photo by Bill Wilson.
PIEDMONT – A fire hydrant dated 1952 stands on Williams Street in a residential block in Piedmont, covered with black plastic bag, a sign that it doesn’t work.

The hydrant is one of about 10 in Piedmont that the city has marked as inoperable and prioritized for repair. The city plans to repair about 30 more hydrants, and firefighters have identified a total of 62 of its 500 hydrants as damaged, according to city officials.

It is common for firefighters in any city to find problem hydrants each year. In Oxford firefighters found 76 of the city’s 841 hydrants needed some work this year. In Jacksonville about 10 of the city’s 461 hydrants required repairs.

But in Piedmont some of the hydrant problems have lingered for more than a year, said Jesse McKnight, water superintendent. McKnight, who was appointed as superintendent in January, said some hydrants have been on the repair list for two years.

Earlier this month the city ordered enough parts to completely repair the 10 inoperable hydrants, and it ordered parts to correct five more hydrants that need to be updated. The parts have not come in yet, but when they do McKnight and another worker will start making the repairs, he said.

Newly appointed Mayor Bill Baker said he wasn’t aware of the problem until earlier this month, when fire Chief Mike Ledbetter, who was appointed earlier this year, included the information in a report during a public meeting. Baker and Ledbetter said they don’t think houses are at any greater risk from fire, despite the fact that some hydrants are inoperable.

Ledbetter said that’s because the city firefighters have a tanker truck that will help them fight fires in case of an emergency. Also, he said, many areas with malfunctioning hydrants have others close enough that firefighters can use those while extinguishing a blaze.

Baker, Ledbetter and McKnight said they did not know why the hydrants haven’t been fixed before now.

“I really can’t tell you what happened,” Baker said. “Now that I'm aware of the problem, I’m taking steps to fix them”

Baker said the city will order more parts once the Water Department begins repair work on the 15 that have been prioritized.

The Insurance Service Organization, or ISO, requires fire departments to conduct tests each year to find hydrants with problems. Once those checks are complete, area departments file reports with local water authorities. Those water authorities, which typically install the hydrants, make the repairs. Replacing a hydrant costs about $3,000, and repairs can be costly too, McKnight said.

He declined to say how much the city is spending to repair hydrants now, citing concerns that releasing that information would hinder ongoing negotiations to purchase more parts. But, he said, the cost of repairs is one factor that has kept the city from fixing the hydrants before now.

McKnight said the Water Department would receive annual reports from the Fire Department each year, but officials waited for funding from the city to move forward with the repairs each year.

Ledbetter said the department typically conducts hydrant tests each year in the summer and fall. Most hydrants are sound, and the problems with the ones that need repair can vary greatly, he said.

The most recent list of problematic repairs was turned over to the city’s Water Department last December. The problems listed include small leaks, caps that won’t come off, hydrants that won’t turn on and those that won’t turn off.

Ledbetter also said that most of the hydrants that need repair, like the one on Williams Street, are old.

“It’s a concern,” Ledbetter said. “They need to be fixed.”

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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