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Fire hydrants don’t equal fire protection

Sara McManamy-Johnson • Updated Oct 15, 2013 at 5:52 PM

Fire hydrants don’t automatically equate to fire protection, according to Wilson county officials.

Wilson Emergency Management Agency firefighters responded early Saturday morning to a fire at an unoccupied home at the corner of Beasley’s Bend and North Dickerson Road, but the first two hydrants workers tried failed to work.

WEMA Director John Jewell said the issue did not impact the outcome of the fire, which was already more than 50 percent involved when the call came in and 80 percent involved when firefighters arrived.

Chris Leauber, executive director of the Water and Wastewater Authority of Wilson County, said that although the WWAWC installs, maintains and services the fire hydrants in that area, they are secondary to the agency’s primary purpose.

“We’re not in the fire protection business,” said Leauber. “Our focus is really to provide potable drinking water.”

He said the agency employs six field service workers who set services, read meters and maintain the hydrants, among other duties.

“We [service hydrants] when we have time available to do it,” said Leauber.

He also said the agency is considering implementing an advanced metering integration system, which would free up field service workers from meter reading and allow more time to maintain hydrants.

But Leauber said the presence of a fire hydrant doesn’t mean that it’s capable of providing adequate fire service.

“I think there’s a big misconception that when you have a fire hydrant in your front yard, you have fire protection,” said Leauber.

Wilson County Planning Commission requires subdivision developers install fire hydrants every 750 feet.

“Not every house in Wilson County is in a subdivision,” said Jewell.

Additionally, Leauber said rural areas of the county simply do not have the density of customers to support the size of the water mains that would be required.

“It’s going to take a beefier water system to provide fire service,” said Jewell.

He said firefighters used about 20,000 gallons of water on Saturday’s fire.

Leauber said that if the mains were large enough to provide adequate fire protection flow, the system would not meet drinking water regulations.

Jewell said the fire hydrants are located to enhance firefighting capabilities. Each WEMA pumper tanker rolls out with 1,250 gallons of water already onboard.

“There’s not a consistency of fire hydrants,” said Jewell. “In this case, it was unusual that there were so many so close.”

There were five hydrants within one mile of the fire.

Jewell said that while he’d rather have a hydrant that was a little weak than no hydrant at all, even a powerful hydrant is limited by other factors when in a rural setting.

“There are a whole lot of parts to that puzzle to bring rural areas up to an urban, or city, fire area,” said Jewell, citing distance firefighters have to travel to respond as one factor.

Jewell and Leauber both said homeowners, particularly in rural areas, should consider sprinkler systems.

“That’s a good idea, even if you have the hydrants,” said Jewell.

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