25% of D.C.’s Fire Hydrants Need Repair, Says Fire Chief

May 29, 2007

About 25 percent of the District of Columbia’s fire hydrants require replacement or urgent repairs, the city’s fire chief said this week, giving the bleakest picture yet of the problem.

D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin told a D.C. Council committee week that in some neighborhoods up to 16 percent of the hydrants don’t work at all, and many more need repairs because of problems such as poor water flow.

“It’s like a sucker punch when firefighters are fighting a fire and go to a hydrant that doesn’t work,” Rubin said.

The problem has garnered attention since a fire late last month at the Georgetown public library, where the two hydrants closest to the building were out of order. Firefighters had to use other hydrants two blocks away.

Last week, the union representing D.C. firefighters estimated that 10 percent of the city’s approximately 9,000 hydrants don’t work.

On Wednesday, Rubin said that number represented hydrants that need to be replaced. Another 15 percent need immediate repairs, he said.

Rubin, who took over the department last month after leading fire departments in Atlanta and elsewhere, said the broken hydrants are a safety hazard and an embarrassment.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, which is in charge of the hydrants, pledged to speed up inspections.

On Wednesday, WASA General Manager Jerry N. Johnson stuck to his contention that only a small fraction of hydrants are out of service. He said WASA knew of only 29 as of Monday.

But Rubin said he based his estimates on firefighters’ tests of the hydrants. The department began systematic testing in 2005, and a new round of inspections began this month.

Council member Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the public safety committee, held up photographs that showed hydrants swallowed by tree roots, hidden in weeds and tilted on their sides.

Noting that in the case of the tree root, it took many years to grow, he asked Johnson why such conditions exist.

Johnson said he didn’t have an answer, then added: “I would have expected a resident to call it in.”

Fire officials said the hydrant with the roots, located in the Tenleytown area, was reported to WASA about six months ago and was recently replaced.


Information from: The Washington Post,

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