WATER SUPPLY Fire hydrants' failure sparks controversy



The fire chief says the top came off a fire hydrant as it was being turned on.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LIBERTY -- Fire Chief Michael Durkin said a Youngstown-Hubbard Road business could have been destroyed during a July 26 blaze because four fire hydrants weren't working.
"That's terrible. It could have been a disaster by losing the whole building," Durkin said.
Fire broke out at D & amp;L Auto Salvage, at the Youngstown-Liberty border. Dean Carson of Kroeck Avenue, Austintown, was cutting parts from a car and apparently ignited gasoline fumes.
Carson was hospitalized after suffering first- and second-degree burns on his left arm and leg. A friend drove him to St. Elizabeth Health Center, and he has since been released.
Durkin estimated the damage at $200,000 to the frame and metal structure containing vehicles and tools.
Problems began
Durkin said that when he arrived at the scene, he attempted to open a hydrant across the street from the burning building.
He explained that the bonnet, or top of the hydrant, came off as he tried to open it to get water.
Youngstown firefighters arrived, Durkin said, and they couldn't get water out of the next three hydrants.
The hydrants are maintained by the Youngstown Water Department.
Fortunately, Durkin said, the two departments didn't run out of water because they had a combined five or six pumper trucks on the scene that also carry water.
Durkin, a former Youngstown fire captain before becoming the Liberty chief in 2002, said he never saw more than one hydrant malfunction while working for Youngstown.
Gene Leson, chief engineer at the Youngstown Water Department, said he only learned of the hydrant problem through the "rumor mill."
"We got a lot of mixed reports," he asserted.
He said a check found that two hydrants were not working and four were functioning. One of the two has since been repaired.
Leson is critical of Durkin and Youngstown Battalion Chief Tim McGarry, who was in charge of Youngstown firefighters, for not contacting him after the problem was discovered.
Leson noted that he personally knows Durkin and McGarry. "You'd think they'd have called me," he added.
But McGarry said he notified the water department from the fire scene. A water crew arrived and said "they'd look at it."
Addressing the issue
"I'm at a loss why they had a problem," Leson said of the firefighters' inability to get water out of the hydrants.
Youngstown maintains about 7,400 fire hydrants, and each is inspected every two years, Leson said.
Terry Jordan, another Youngstown battalion chief, said he has never seen four hydrants not working at a fire scene in his 22 years on the department.
Jordan said he has seen one -- perhaps two -- not functioning at a fire scene, and that was during the winter, when they were frozen.
Leson said he doesn't know what more can be done to assure all the hydrants are functioning.
Normally, six to 10 of the 7,400 hydrants are not working because of general maintenance or because they were struck by a vehicle.
In most cases when damaged by a vehicle, a police report is made, and the hydrant repaired.
yovich@vindy.com

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