New Haven resident Cheryl Jackson had a problem that plagued her for two years.
“This one and the one down the street wasn’t working,” said Jackson, standing near her home on Winthrop Avenue.
She’s pointing to a broken fire hydrant. No longer a source of water, it was a source of worry.
“Time is of essence when a fire is in process, you know? If you have a hydrant right here, why not fix it?”
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Over and over, she says she made calls to her neighborhood representative on the Board of Alders, as well as the fire department with no luck. Finally, she sent an email to the mayor’s office. The fire department came out right away she says and fixed the hydrant. Her two years of worry were over.
“It’s a relief. It’s a relief,” Jackson said.
But it’s also part of a larger problem in New Haven. The Firefighters Union Local 825 raised the alarm back in June.
“All I know is I’ve constantly brought it to their attention, and they haven’t acted on it,” said Dan Del Prete back in June. He’s a member of the union’s executive board.
NBC Connecticut made multiple requests for an interview with union leaders, who declined to go on camera. However, they brought up the issue at a Board of Alders subcommittee meeting Monday night, where Fire Chief John Alston was up for reappointment.
“Not only are our citizens in jeopardy by not replacing those and taking care of those hydrants, but our members are,” said Local 825 president Patrick Cannon.
NBC Connecticut addressed the concerns with the New Haven Fire Department. Officials say they’ve hired two more mechanics over the last eight months. Now there are three on staff who can repair the hydrants and keep up maintenance on the trucks and engines. It was a citywide workload previously handled by one mechanic.
“With that additional mechanic, we should be able to continue to cut our number down of out of service hydrants that we have,” said Assistant Fire Chief Terence Rountree.
He says the number sits at about 140 inoperable hydrants out of 2,221 in New Haven. By comparison, NBC Connecticut confirmed with the city of Bridgeport that 48 hydrants are out of service of 2,126. And Hartford city officials tell us there are four down, out of 2,584.
“Once the weather begins to warm, we’ll begin to fix more of them collectively,” said Rountree. “But right now, there’s certain hydrants that are higher priority – which we label them as they come in – those will get fixed immediately.”
Rountree also adds that they have backups in place, so they know how to plan their responses in case there is a hydrant out, like the one that was on Jackson’s block.
“All the engines that respond to calls have water, plus we have a computer program that lets them know if there’s a hydrant out of service prior to arrival,” Rountree said.
“Fire hydrants are typically spaced 500 feet from one another in the city of New Haven, so if this one is out of service then there’s one that’s 500 feet. And we carry 1,400 feet of hose on our apparatus to lay supply line so we can overcome if one hydrant’s out of service,” Rountree said. He adds that their engines carry 500 gallons of water and two carry 750 gallons.
“When it comes to repairs, there are some hydrants with problems way below the surface. Some are more than 100 years old and may be connected to an even older water system.
“Much of the system began as a way for fire suppression and then evolved into clean drinking water,” said April Capone, public relations director for the Regional Water Authority.
The New Haven Water company began 170 years ago. Today, it's known as the Regional Water Authority (RWA), serving 15 cities and towns. Capone says they spend millions each year on repairs and upgrades.
“We are constantly monitoring breaks, what can be fixed, what needs to be upgraded, that is something that we do in connection with municipalities.”
And the system also supports fire hydrants as it began back in the 1850s. Today, if a car or even a snowplow knocks into a hydrant, the damage could be along the RWA pipes below.
“We would work in connection with the municipality to get that done and sometimes that does require a water shutdown,” Capone said.
Six cities and towns have opted to have the Regional Water Authority maintain their hydrants. New haven isn’t one of them.
“We do test hydrants regularly for making sure they’re up and running,” Rountree said.
Jackson says it should be all of them.
“If you have a hydrant, it should be working. That’s just my opinion,” Jackson said.