WSAZ Investigates l Water Supply Issues

A recent house fire in Charleston, West Virginia, where low water pressure from a hydrant was an issue has us looking deeper into the problem.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 7:38 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A fire during the weekend destroyed a home as fire crews struggled to get water from nearby hydrants. Tuesday, those hydrants are covered up by trash bags.

Information from city of Charleston officials and West Virginia American Water (WVAW) is shedding light on why water pressure for a couple hydrants did not work for firefighters.

Sue Ellen McKalip lives two doors down from where that fire happened last Friday.

“I am sad for the family that lives there I am sad for the neighborhood and for the city of Charleston it is a very heartbreaking,” said McKalip on Monday.

A statement by West Virginia American Water was released Tuesday after testing showed three hydrants did not work in the area.

Jeanine Faegre, City Council member for Ward 5, watched firefighters struggle to put out flames.

On a phone call, she said the hydrants on Edgewood Drive and Beech Avenue, Beech Avenue and Chester Road, and Chester Road and Lower Chester Road did not have enough water pressure.

Faegre said she had a conference call with WVAW leaders. During that call, she learned the hydrants had been tested in 2022, but there was no information about the water flow from that test.

Council member Faegre said she asked WVAW to publicly publish a flushing schedule to allow residents to know their hydrants are working and being tested.

WSAZ filed a Freedom of Information Act for all records and documents related to the inspections, testing and maintenance of fire hydrants in Charleston, including the fire hydrants on Chester Road and Beech Avenue.

After WSAZ filed the records request the city released the following statement.

Today we discussed with West Virginia American Water (WVAW) their plan to fix the fire hydrant issues in the Chester Road area. While WVAW works to fix these fire hydrants, the Charleston Fire Department has a plan in place to ensure residents have proper fire protection coverage. We appreciate that the Kanawha County Commission has provided a fire engine that is equipped with 1,000 gallons of water, which has been located to Station 2 on Washington Street. We also appreciate the City of Dunbar, the West Virginia National Guard, and our City Street Department for having additional water resources available.

The Charleston Fire Department has trained and planned for scenarios like this and is confident in their fire protection coverage. We will continue to work with WVAW to ensure fire hydrants throughout the City are operating properly.

We are thankful for the continued hard work of the Charleston Fire Department, our emergency services partners across the region, and our entire city team and Council Member Jeanine Faegre for her efforts to ensure residents’ voices are heard.

City of Charleston

Faegre told WSAZ the city pays WVAW more than $160,000 a year to maintain the city’s fire hydrants.

WVAW was unable to give a statement on the water supply issues at the hydrants on Saturday and Monday.

Tuesday this statement was released by WVAW:

West Virginia American Water met with the City of Charleston and Charleston Fire Department today to discuss concerns related to fire hydrants on the city’s West Side. The meeting was held in response to a house fire in the Edgewood district on Friday evening in which three fire hydrants were reportedly found to provide insufficient firefighting flows. The three hydrants of concern last passed inspection in July 2022. Following further investigation alongside the Charleston Fire Department on Monday, the three hydrants, which were installed on 4” water mains, were rendered out of service until further notice.

Following today’s meeting, West Virginia American Water is committed to working alongside the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department to remedy any issues with the three fire hydrants of concern and have them back into service as soon as possible. Additionally, the company will work closely with the Charleston Fire Department to identify any additional fire hydrants on 4” water mains and conduct flow testing to determine their efficiency in the event of an emergency. Any fire hydrant found to produce insufficient flow for firefighting will be repaired, replaced or otherwise mitigated.

West Virginia American Water has a long history of providing adequate fire service in the City of Charleston. Since 2017, West Virginia American Water has invested over $21.5 million in infrastructure upgrades across the City of Charleston, totaling nearly 11 miles or 59,000 feet of new water mains and associated new fire hydrants.

West Virginia American Water appreciates the collaboration and coordination with the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department to continue providing adequate fire protection across the Capitol City.

West Virginia American Water

WSAZ has also filed a Freedom of Information request for the contract between the city and WVAW.

While the three hydrants are out of service in the area, the Kanawha County Commission approved the city’s use of a 1,000-gallon truck owned by the county to cover the area in case of a fire.

That truck is housed at Station 2 on Washington Street.

“Fire trucks cannot be found very easily, and so time is always of the essence when you need that truck to be in service,” said Kanawha County Commissioner Lance Wheeler. “We have always loaned that truck out whether it is our municipalities, our cities, or it is just a volunteer fire department who needs the truck for an extended period of time.”

WSAZ will keep working to get answers and the water supply issues. Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest.