Archive for Thursday, February 23, 2006

Council eyes problem with fire hydrant

February 23, 2006

After last week's failure of a fire hydrant in the yard of Bill and Jane Stotts' home at 818 Indiana, Baldwin City Council members wanted answers at Monday's meeting regarding the status and testing of hydrants.

The old Chapman hydrant that failed, sending water gushing all around it, but not in the fire hose, is one of about a dozen such hydrants in town among the 225 total hydrants. Although many of the hydrants were tested last spring by the Baldwin City Fire Department, not all of them were.

Council members, while insisting they weren't laying blame regarding the fire that destroyed the Stotts' home, wanted assurance that a testing procedure would be implemented.

"We really need to do this," said Council Member Tony Brown. "Again, this isn't a matter of blame, it's a matter of getting it done. I think it's a high priority."

Fire Chief Allen Craig said his department tested many of the hydrants in an effort to reduce fire insurance rates, but all were not tested. City Utility Director Bill Winegar said he'd like to replace all the old ones and any that aren't working.

"We started testing hydrants last year because ISO was coming in," said Craig. "Bill said he didn't have staff to do it, so the fire department went out and did it. We did not test every hydrant. It was done last April and May. We found hydrants that were closed, that didn't work."

Council President Amy Cleavinger, who was conducting the meeting in the absence of Mayor Gary Walbridge, continued to press on establishing a regular testing procedure.

"Who's going to do it?" asked Craig.

"I'll take the blame and I'll take care of it," said Winegar.

"We're not laying blame," said Council Member Doyle Jardon.

Cleavinger echoed that and also said she's grateful to the volunteer fire fighters, as did other council members.

"No one is pointing fingers," said Cleavinger. "We're all grateful for the department and the staff. We just need a better system to check the hydrants."

The council also raised the need for a full-time paid fire fighter. The city had applied for a grant last summer to pay for the position, but the grant didn't come through. The volunteer department is strong on weekends and evenings, but there is a lack of volunteers in town during the weekdays. There have been several pleas made for additional volunteers, but the council also is leaning toward a full-time position on its own.

"I very much appreciate Allen and his volunteers," said Brown, "but we need to look at full time. The volunteer department is great. They put in countless hours and give great service."

Craig cautioned the council that even if a full-time fire fighter is hired for Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., it doesn't lessen the need for volunteers.

"Even with one person full time, you still have to rely on volunteers," he said.

Interested persons can pick up applications to volunteer with the fire department at City Hall.

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