PSC orders hydrant information after WSAZ Investigation

W.Va. PSC to order hydrant information from utilities statewide amid a WSAZ investigation.
Published: Jun. 30, 2023 at 4:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Following WSAZ Investigations into faulty hydrants, the Public Service Commission of West Virginia has ordered a general investigation to examine the maintenance and testing of fire hydrants.

That order coming Friday afternoon amid weeks of investigation by WSAZ NewsChannel 3, and less than 24 hours after the station reported Thursday on a senator’s call for testimony as early as August.

WSAZ Investigates | Senator calls for hearings into faulty hydrants

The WSAZ investigation -- False Security -- stemmed from two fires with the same story. Firefighters didn’t have enough water May 5 to fight a house fire in Charleston, 15 months after crews encountered the same issue in failed efforts to save a Pizza Hut in Danville.

Reporter Curtis Johnson’s investigation into the problem finding even more issues, such as a hydrant next to a nursing home, which produced so little water that its owner, the Boone County Commission, took it out of service days after seeing our story.

Danville’s fire chief telling WSAZ another hydrant -- just 50 feet from a house -- doesn’t put out enough water to save the residence.

Johnson took the issue to Gov. Jim Justice, R-West Virginia, in early June.

“This is ridiculous, Curtis,” he told Johnson. “That’s all there is to it. I am right dead with ya. I mean there’s no question whatsoever that the Legislature, the Public Service Commission ought to look into this and everything in any way, because you’re dead on the money.”

Senate Infrastructure Chairman Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, called for testimony as early as August, along with a total review of existing hydrant law and a statewide survey of hydrants.

“Do you believe an investigation is necessary?” Johnson asked.

“Oh, yes. Yes, I think we need to,” Clements replied. “I would be willing to try to work on legislation to get this done, because there’s nothing worse than going out in a car that won’t start. There’s nothing worse than going to a fire hydrant when your house is on fire and you can’t get water.”

Less than 24 hours after WSAZ broadcast those comments, the state PSC demanded information from water utilities across the state.

The order, entered Friday, a “General Investigation Into Maintenance And Testing Of Fire Hydrants”.

PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane unavailable to speak on camera, but releasing this statement.

“We are seeking information and will evaluate when we receive it, and then we will determine if further action is necessary,” the statement read.

The order requires all public utilities, that own fire hydrants or serve private hydrants, turn over information. That demand includes each utility’s number of total hydrants, hydrants on smaller water mains, new hydrants installed over the last decade and hydrant inspection reports for the last five years.

Other items being asked for includes: the age of hydrants owned or serviced, descriptions of the infrastructure supporting them, problems or complaints encountered, and maintenance schedules and practices.

Some of the same information that WSAZ has been asking West Virginia American Water for since early May. Those questions asked during an interview with the company’s president and multiple emails since. A company spokesman refusing to answer questions citing litigation.

That lack of information has come from the largest water provider in the state, with nearly 600,000 customers.

The company is responsible for 11,000 hydrants statewide, including the hydrants fire officials say did not supply enough water at the Charleston house fire or the Danville Pizza Hut.

Information lawmakers now want as well.

“They told me they won’t provide that information to me,” Johnson told Clements. “So how can that be? Where does this end?”

“You know, Curtis, with all due respect, I think there’s a big difference when you’re before legislative committee and before a camera and TV set,” Clements replied. “We can hopefully get them.”

The PSC has ordered that on or before July 28, 2023, all public utility owners of fire hydrants or that serve private fire hydrants shall provide certain information to the commission.

Among the dozens of questions the PSC is asking utilities that own and service hydrants - some focus on if they routinely conduct flow tests on hydrants.

Although the Commission has no requirements for water pressure or volume for fire suppression, the state Department of Health and Human Resources requires that, “Under no circumstances shall fire flows be less than 250 gallons per minute.”

The PSC says if the hydrant doesn’t produce minimal flow standards --- it “is not fulfilling its purpose”.

According to the PSC, one of the primary charges of the commission is to require public utilities to perform in a manner designed to safeguard the interests of the public and the utilities. Whether a fire hydrant is owned by a public utility or served by a utility, the utility has responsibilities to assure that the hydrant will perform adequately.

For previous WSAZ coverage, TAP the link below:

WSAZ Investigates | Senator calls for hearings into faulty hydrants

WSAZ Investigates | False Security

WSAZ Investigates | W.Va. Gov. Justice calls for Action after our investigation into Faulty Hydrants

WSAZ Investigates | False Security

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.