This section of pipe was removed near King Street. The build up inside the pipe restricts water flow.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The problem with a non-working hydrant during a fire on Tyler Street earlier in the year was the result of a "field decision" by the contractor to shut down two hydrants, according to Commissioner of Public Utilities David Turocy.
In May, a home was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. They quickly ran a hose to a hydrant on Plunkett Street but no water came out. They carried it up to the next, and again no water came out.
Finally, with the help of police, emergency medical technicians and citizens, the hose was dragged down Tyler Street to a hydrant farther away. The Fire Department traditionally knows which hydrants are working and which ones are not, but not in this case.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandifeels that is unacceptable and called on Turocy to provide answers.
"We put our residents at risk, our firefighters at risk, and the city at risk," Morandi said at Monday's meeting of the public works subcommittee.
The two hydrants were being upgraded. The former St. Mary the Morning Star Church and the buildings on that property are being transformed into housing and needed an expanded water flow to provide fire protection. The city hired Lenox Construction last fall to expand the mainline to that side of Tyler Street for a cost of $35,470 and then the developer, CT Management, was to take it from there.
Later, the city won a state budget allocation to do even more on that line and MassWest took over the project.
"Lenox Construction did the first part of the job. They were out of it. We had to put out a new bid for the rest of it. MassWest continued the job after that," Turocy said.
The line was extended up Plunkett with one hydrant being replaced and another being added, and the lines servicing them were being expanded. However, once MassWest finished the $102,606 project, there was a leak.
"That leak was there for two weeks. Our water guys were out there working on it but it was difficult to identify where it was," Turocy said. "We really had a failure in communication as to what to do next."
MassWest put in an isolation value to help identify where the leak was coming from. Turocy said the company wanted to shut hydrants down as it searched for the leak while the city wanted to keep them active during the process.
MassWest ultimately made a "field decision" to shut down the hydrants in order to find the leak.
"Those type of things happen, you get those calls in the field where you don't have all of the communication you want," Turocy said.
The city wasn't notified that the hydrants were shut off, and thus the Fire Department was never notified that the hydrants weren't working.
"We were caught by surprise as much as anybody when there was no water coming out of those hydrants," Turocy said.
The Water Department turned the hydrants back on shortly into the firefighting efforts. But there was still a delay in getting water on the blaze. The leak in the line has since been fixed. But Turocy says he doesn't want that to happen again.
"We don't want that to be a call in the field," Turocy said, adding that the city is now requiring a written notification and sign off from the city before any hydrants are shut off. Language will be added to bid documents asking contractors to provide information on when they might need hydrants to be shut off. "This is too important to allow that so we are putting that into all of our water line bids."
Turocy said right now there is no repercussion planned against MassWest for the miscommunication but "that possibility exists."
A bigger concern for Turocy, however, isn't so much the hydrants but the city's water lines. He said there is no plan in place to replace the aging water lines that are getting clogged through tuberculation, or corrosion.
"We have a number of hydrants in the city that are 2 or 4-inch lines. That is really not sufficient flow that we'd want to see on the city," Turocy said.
Right now there are two hydrants in the city that aren't working properly because of that. Two hydrants on King Street — one at the intersection of Warriner and one at the dead-end — have both been tagged as having an insufficient flow to fight fires. The Fire Department has been notified of those two and knows to use different hydrants should there be a fire.
"At this time there is not [a plan to address it]. It is not the hydrant, it is replacing the water line the length of King Street that would be required," Turocy said.
The street is expected to be repaved next year and Turocy said he'd like to get that line replaced before then. A fire on Brown Street also saw issues with a lack of water and Turocy said the hydrant there was working fine but the line was too small for the amount of flow needed.
He put forth a request for the next capital budget (FY2021) to start the process of upgrading water lines throughout the city. His office is already prioritizing which lines to tackle first.
"It is going to be expensive but we need to come up with a plan," Turocy said.
Other than the two on King and two others that were completely taken down and still need to be replaced (one on South Street and one on Center Street) the other hydrants are working, he said. Every spring, the city flushes all 1,671 city-owned hydrants to not only test them but to flush the lines. Turocy said the city provides maintenance to some 300 hydrants per year. He also added that the city does have a replacement plan for the remaining 163 Mathews model hydrants, which are dated and have problems with leaking.
Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell said replacing infrastructure should be the primary focus in the city's budget and with a tight financial situation, he believes the city needs to find areas to reduce in order to pay for the upgrades.
"We always put it on the back burner. We can only put it on the back burner for so long. But situations like this could be life or death," Connell said.
And that is only the state of the city-owned hydrants. There are 225 privately-owned hydrants that aren't maintained or flushed by the city.
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon questioned how they were processed only to discover that there is no system in place requiring private hydrants to be tested or maintained — leaving the Fire Department completely in the dark as to whether or not water will come out of that particular hydrant.
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