WSAZ Investigates | Council Members Sound off about Hydrants

Some Charleston City Council members sound off about hydrant issues in the city after fire destroyed a home.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 7:45 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A fire destroyed a home on May 6, and by the time firefighters were able to find a working fire hydrant, flames had already torn through that home.

Beth Kerns, a Charleston City Council member for Ward 7, said she was shocked when she learned three hydrants did not work well enough to put out a fire in the city.

“When you go to your light switch and you turn the switch on, and we assume when you hook up to a fire hydrant when you need it because that is the only time you would hook up to it that the water is going to come out,” Kerns said.

Another City Council member, Chuck Overstreet for Ward 3, was a firefighter for 23 years and a former fire chief for the city of Charleston.

“I am very concerned. I can maybe remember once in my 20-year career of not having enough water, and even in that occasion we had enough to where we could catch attach to another hydrant and be able to do our job,” Overstreet said.

Both said they want to see more accessible information on the city’s hydrant system and better communication from the company who maintains the hydrants -- West Virginia American Water (WVAW).

WSAZ found the city pays nearly $160,000 to maintain the hydrants.

“I just wonder how many fire hydrants are in the same condition throughout our entire city?” Kerns asked.

Overstreet said he never thought firefighters would run into this type of situation.

“Until this happened, that was not my concern I thought it was going on,” Overstreet said.

Kerns said since she learned the city pays tens of thousand of dollars to WVAW, she wants to see the documents that outline what they are doing with the money.

“I always say information is power and once I know what is in that contract then I can help hold the feet to the fire with West Virginia American Water and make sure that our city never faces this again,” Kerns said.

WSAZ also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city for a copy of the contract.

The city replied they do not have a copy of it.

WSAZ obtained a copy of a document detailing what WVAW is responsible for.

In Section 6, the document states:

Kerns and Overstreet said they do not think the hydrants have been maintained and inspected.

“I may have seen one or two in the last few years but not a consistent commonality of that,” Overstreet said.

That is why Kerns said City Council members have asked WVAW for more information about the hydrant maintenance.

“I want a complete report ward by ward of every fire hydrant that has been checked, certified, what the diameter is inch by inch. I want the people of this city to know what kind of fire protection that they have that they are paying dearly for,” Kerns said.

“Do you think they have that right now?” asked reporter Kim Rafferty.

“Absolutely not, and until this fire happened none of us were aware, and that is the terrifying part. That is the absolute terrifying part to stand out in front of your house while it is on fire, and a trickle come out of a fire hydrant is ridiculous,” said Kerns.

WSAZ has asked WVAW for detailed information on their hydrants multiple times.

WSAZ has still not received any information about hydrants from the company.

For previous coverage:

WSAZ Investigates l Water Supply Issues

WSAZ Investigates l Fire Hydrant Safety