Archive for Thursday, March 23, 2006

Firefighting fixes falling into place

March 23, 2006

Baldwin City Council members have made it clear they want answers regarding fire protection in the city.

The council's concerns are in the wake of the Feb. 13 fire that destroyed the home of Bill and Jane Stotts at 818 Indiana. While there were other problems associated with controlling the fire, a hydrant in the corner of the home's lot failed, causing fire fighters to bring hoses from other nearby hydrants.

The depth of the council's concern was evident when Council President Amy Cleavinger questioned a purchase listed in council packet at the beginning of the meeting. Ordinarily, those purchases are quickly approved.

"Is this purchase for new fire hydrants?" Cleavinger asked, and was answered with a yes. "Where are we at with this?"

Bill Winegar, director of utilities, said the city has purchased new hydrants.

"We've replaced three," said Winegar. "That's all we've got done right now. We've got six. The problem is, some of them (old hydrants) are on bad lines."

Winegar said hydrants had been replaced at Eighth and Monroe and Eighth and Jersey streets. The hydrant at 818 Indiana was replaced the day after the fire.

A consultant has been hired to study the city's water distribution system and it will be determined then what lines will be replaced. Also, during the upcoming downtown project to replace sidewalks, water lines and other upgrades will be made.

"Downtown is slated for all of them (hydrants) to be replaced," he said.

Cleavinger also pushed the question of the efforts to test all hydrants in the city.

"We're putting together a plan of attack," Winegar said.

As for the need for volunteers on the Baldwin Fire Department, Fire Chief Allen Craig had good news when asked Tuesday evening about people stepping up.

"We had three volunteer," said Craig. "Two are active and one is in training. We need more."

The volunteer department had dipped to 16 members and the biggest problem was that only four could respond to fires during the day, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. That contributed to problems at the Stotts' fire as well. All three of the newcomers can fit the daytime slot most of the time.

"Yes, they can," said Craig. "One is basically in town during daytime and the other is in the area and can respond. The third is on shift work, so based on that is whether he could or could not."

The department has been looking for volunteers for a while. The Signal had run a story the week before the Stotts' fire on the need and advertisements have been running since. The chief is encouraged about staff numbers, but would love to have more.

"Yes, I'm feeling better," he said. "It gives us a little more manpower. Every little bit helps. We still need more. I'll take all I can get. It would be good to have four or five more, but we'll take more. It takes awhile to get trained and get experience."

Those interested can pick up applications at City Hall.

But, there was another problem with the Stotts' fire. When Nathan Stotts called 911 to report the fire, it was misdirected by a dispatcher at Lawrence-Douglas County Emergency Fire and Medical as a Lawrence fire. When fire trucks arrived at 818 Indiana there, not only was there no fire, but it wasn't coming from the second floor as it had reported. The house there was a single story. That's when it was discovered that it was a Baldwin fire -- had a 594 telephone prefix -- and was redirected. It cost valuable time.

"It was 100 percent human error," Craig said of the explanation he and other fire chiefs received at a recent meeting. "It came up with two addresses and he picked the wrong one. The dispatcher is leaving Douglas County, but it's not because of the error. He got a different job."

The dispatcher also was retrained by supervisors, which is according to policy. Although the mistake cost at least 10 minutes of response time, Craig wasn't sure it was the biggest factor in the fire destroying the $123,000 home, but it was certainly one of them.

"If it had been Friday the 13th, we'd have been good," he said. "I don't know. I'd of had to have been there from the start to see if the time would have made a difference.

"Who would have thought we'd have a dispatch mistake, a fire hydrant fail and a lack of manpower," he said.

Between insurance and community outpouring, the Stotts family has been taken care of following the blaze that destroyed their home since 1989, which was started by a candle.

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