WSAZ Investigates l Fire Hydrant Safety

We have a follow-up investigation to fire hydrant safety after low pressure at two hydrants in Charleston was experienced during a fire that destroyed a home.
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 7:23 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - When a fire breaks, it is assumed crews will be able to hook up to a hydrant and put out the flames.

West Virginia American Water is responsible for making sure those hydrants work and maintaining thousands of them across the state.

Scanner traffic on the night of Friday, May 5 into that Saturday morning reveals what firefighters were saying about the hydrants:

“Yes ma’am, I know you are busy. I am trying to manage this water supply. Have you made contact with the water company to figure out anything about how these hydrants have no pressure?”

Robert Shipley lives a few blocks away from the home that burned. He said he watched the situation unfold as firefighters tried to hook up to a hydrant twice before they finally found one with enough pressure. By that time, the fire was already out of control.

“Hose was just coming out of the truck, they made the turn hose coming out of the truck. It was the most incredible thing I have never seen, anything this incredible, even in a movie,” Shipley said.

West Virginia American Water maintains 11,000 hydrants statewide, including the three hydrants in the area, and confirms all three did not have enough water flowing for crews to fight flames.

In a statement, WVAW said the three hydrants which remain out of service are installed on 4-inch water mains.

WSAZ found state law changed nearly 30 years ago, which requires all hydrants to be installed on 6-inch water mains.

The reason is because the larger line allows for the water flow needed to fight fires.

WSAZ reached out to WVAW asking questions like, “When were the three hydrants that failed installed?”

“I do not have this information at this time, and may not if the hydrants were part of a former municipal system,” said a WVAW spokesperson.

WSAZ asked for the earliest inspection date the company has for the hydrants. The company replied that they do not have that information readily available.

In 2017, the company added a surcharge to customers’ bills for infrastructure improvements.

In press releases, the company states specific amounts of money will be used for upgrades and replacement of fire hydrants.

In fact, just since 2017, WSAZ found the company said it would be using more than $24 million of that money for upgrades that include fire hydrants.

WSAZ asked the company how much of that money was actually allotted to hydrant maintenance and replacement and how many hydrants have been replaced or upgraded statewide since 2017?

A spokesperson replied, in part, “Hydrants are not individually tracked as part of our DSIC spend.”

As for how many have been replaced since 2017 when the surcharge was added to your bill, the company said it does not have that information readily available.

For Shipley, as well as other concerned neighbors, he said having working fire hydrants is something to be expected and he never thought of the danger being without them could bring until now.

“I have been walking past all three of these fire hydrants hundreds of times and not one time did it ever dawn on me that the fire hydrants didn’t work,” Shipley said. “We thought the fire hydrants worked, and the one thing now we found out is they don’t.”

TAP HERE for previous coverage.