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Inoperable hydrants complicate efforts to battle blaze in Liberty

Staff photos / R. Michael Semple This home at 925 Tibbetts Wick Road in Liberty was destroyed in a Dec. 13 fire. An inoperable fire hydrant near the home caused delays for firefighters. The same issue arose at a previous home on the site 14 years ago, according to the resident, William Howard. He, his family and their pets escaped the house unharmed because the home had working smoke detectors. Now, Girard officials plan to do a formal fire hydrant review.

GIRARD — William Howard said he and his family were sitting down for dinner in their 925 Tibbetts Wick Road home Dec. 13 when their smoke detectors started blaring.

Howard said he remembers going to the second floor and seeing a large portion of the landing engulfed in flames.

“We pretty much gathered everybody out of the house,” Howard said.

Howard, his wife, their four children and a few pets escaped the fire that caused their house to be declared a total loss.

But Howard said the loss could have been much worse as he recalled watching firefighters go from fire hydrant to fire hydrant near their Liberty Township home.

“I knew that there was a problem, and I even said to my wife, ‘They’re having problems with those hydrants again’,” Howard said.

Fire crews eventually ran hand lines into the home and up to the second floor.

A report stated there was “heavy fire” as crews realized the fire hydrant they were trying to use was “inoperable.”

The next set of crew members was instructed to “catch the next fire hydrant.”

Fire crews then exited the home after the second-floor roof collapsed. The fire then moved to the first floor as mutual aid arrived.

While firefighters tried to lay a supply line, the report states another hydrant was inoperable. Crews finally were able to find a viable water source at the intersection of Tibbetts-Wick and Shannon roads, having to run about 1,500 feet of hose, according to the report.

According to Howard, this wasn’t the first time that firefighters have had problems with fire hydrants near the family’s former home.

Howard said this same issue arose at the address before as the previous home was destroyed by a fire as well. Howard said his family’s home was built on the location in 2011. They plan to rebuild on the same lot, he said.

“My concern is that 14 years ago, they didn’t work, and then we had problems again,” Howard said. “It’s a concern not just for us, but all of our neighbors on Tibbetts-Wick.”

Since living on the street, he said he’s seen fire hydrants in Girard being tested but he’s never seen them tested on their street.

“I don’t know that the fire hydrant situation would have changed anything, but it could for somebody else if they don’t have the safety factors that we had in place. If they have that same fire hydrant situation, there could be a life loss there,” Howard said.

Now, Girard city officials are looking to address inoperable hydrants to ensure the safety of their residents.

Girard Mayor Mark Zuppo said he and Safety / Service Director Sal Ponzio have been working with their fire and water departments to implement a preventive maintenance program of fire hydrants in Girard and Liberty Township.

“My first day here, I got three phone calls about that,” Zuppo said about addressing the fire hydrant issue. “There’s definitely a high level of interest in it so our goal is to provide the best services we can.”

At a Monday city council meeting, the new mayor said the city has hired KO Consulting LLC of Youngstown at a rate of $3,000 per month to help the city secure funds for projects such as the implementation of the fire hydrant program.

“We’ve added that to be one of our top priorities — to find money to buy bulk orders of fire hydrants,” Zuppo said, outlining the need for the grant-writing firm because of how expensive it is to replace fire hydrants.

“We just replaced one for $7,000,” Zuppo said. “You’d be looking at millions of dollars replacing all of the fire hydrants.”

Zuppo said he’d like to have an inventory to replace them on an as-needed basis. Zuppo hasn’t met with the grant-writing firm to iron out dollar amounts, but he said that will come later.

A retired Girard firefighter with 33 years of experience, 28 of which he spent as captain, Ponzio said his department performed hydrant checks yearly before the water department took over “some of the jobs” because of EPA requirements.

“I believe they had to do a fifth of the fire hydrants every year to fulfill that requirement.”

Taking office at the same time as Zuppo, Ponzio said fire safety was a “big concern” of his for Ponzio said he’s been in talks with water and fire department heads to complete another formal fire hydrant review in the spring.

“We will be providing some new equipment to this, and it’s important for the mayor, the fire chief and I to make sure all the hydrants, including the ones in Liberty, are reviewed,” he said.

Ponzio said potential grant money will go toward replacement costs associated with the fire hydrant reviews. He said the Girard-Liberty Township area has more than 500 hydrants.

“The intention is to identify the ones that need to be replaced and then prioritize them based on location and safety,” he said. “For example, something close to a nursing home, school or large business where there are lots of people will be placed first.”

Ponzio cautioned that even with routine checks already in place, there’s no guarantee that when they respond to an alarm, the hydrants will work that day.

“Sometimes it’s a freeze in the wintertime or cars hit them, and we don’t know about it,” Ponzio said, but assuring fire crews are equipped to handle those situations.

“In Girard, there’s hydrants every 300 feet; in other areas, we have water tanker trucks that are available immediately that we can get to,” Ponzio said.

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