WSAZ Investigates | Property Owner Fire Hydrant Responsibilities

Chief: Keep Hydrants Free of Obstructions
In our latest investigation, we look at property owners' responsibilities regarding fire hydrants.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 8:11 PM EDT
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TEAYS VALLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - House fires happen when you least expect them, and every second counts when it comes to the ability of firefighters to save your family’s home.

Yet one local fire chief tells WSAZ NewsChannel 3 that one of the biggest problems is, potentially, within your capacity to fix.

“This is one of the greatest things, the obstacles that we run into in our district,” Chief John Smoot of the Teays Valley Fire Department.

That issue -- overgrown weeds and other obstacles that either hide or block access to your neighborhood fire hydrant.

WSAZ found once such example in Teays Valley -- south of the railroad tracks.

“You see that it’s overgrown,” Smoot said. “So at nighttime, three o’clock in the morning, it’s raining, the chances of seeing that are very slim, OK, in the current condition.”

Edging and fence surrounded the fire hydrant — both very likely to be damaged in a fire response.

Smoot said the sheer force of the water capable of destroying the fence, and firefighters would tear away the edging to move in the equipment they need.

“We use this valve to get us every drop of water that we can get out of a fire hydrant,” Smoot said.

Firefighters attach that valve to a pumping apparatus, which they will rely upon to pump and relay water to a forward position.

“We can’t even put that on that hydrant in that condition, and we need that device inside this subdivision because we need to get every drop of water we can get up,” Smoot said.

Smoot says your neighborhood fire hydrant should have plenty of room on all sides, and it’s not just good advice — it is the law in Putnam County.

County ordinance requires a 10-foot area around the hydrant.

The ordinance states, “No structures, fences, plantings, motor vehicles, or any other obstruction that could interfere with the operation shall be allowed within” within the area.

“This fence is not in compliance because it’s right up against the hydrant,” Smoot told WSAZ’s Curtis Johnson.

“Whose responsibility is that? Johnson asked. “Is that the homeowner? Is that somebody such as yourself come along explaining to them, or the water company?”

“We have tried to educate through social media, through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, that if you have this in your yard, please take care of it,” he replied. “If you have shrubs that surround it, please take care of it.”

WSAZ also checked around, and not every county has that ordinance.

However, it’s important to know that West Virginia motor vehicle law prohibits you from parking within 15 feet of a hydrant.