Fourteen fire hydrants out of 54 have been marked out of service by the village of Union Springs, but the fire chief and the mayor disagree on how imminent the potential danger is.
The village is responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the hydrants, but Fire Chief Garret Waldron doesn't feel it is addressing them fast enough.
"My concern is the public safety aspect of it, and the firefighters' safety," Waldron told The Citizen Wednesday.
At $2,000 to $3,000 for each replacement, Mayor Bud Shattuck said he's budgeted to replace three hydrants a year. While Shattuck agreed it's a problem, he questioned whether it was a public safety issue when there are 40 working hydrants in the village. After recently having a water infrastructure problem where village residents had to boil their water for several days, Shattuck is balancing costly projects and feels his hydrant replacement schedule is adequate, adding "I'm doing everything I can."
Bags have been placed on the ones considered out of service, so the department does not try to tap into one, only to find it doesn't work. But Shattuck said some were bagged because they were difficult to open, and not necessarily because they were broken. He's also hoping to bring an engineer in to check the 14, too, to see what needs to be done.
"There's a difference in whether they're not usable or can't open them," Shattuck said. "I just can't imagine with 40 of them within our community that there is not a way and a place for any house within the village to have a full service from the fire company."
Waldron said the concern came to head in December last year when the Union Springs Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school, caught fire. A couple of the closest fire hydrants were not working properly when firefighters searched for a second source of water. At the time, Waldron said that did not cause additional damage to the structure, but it did spur the department to test the hydrants in January.
Addressing that fire, Shattuck said one hydrant couldn't be opened and one didn't have enough water pressure, which he said "has nothing to do with our fire hydrants."
He also pointed out that when fire hydrants are replaced, the village has to shut off its water. That's something that requires planning, he said. It's been years since the fire department exercised the hydrants, Shattuck continued, and he is unclear why this has become an issue now, especially when there are other avenues to fight fires.
"What does a fire company do when there's no fire hydrants around?" Shattuck said. "Pull out tankers. That's what you do. There's other ways to think about how this affects whether it's a safety issue or not."
The whole village, Waldron said, is now set up to be a tanker operation if there's a fire.
"A fire hydrant is ready for water flow right off the bat, compared to a tanker," Waldron said. "You have to rely on people driving and refilling and driving back to the scene. I'm very concerned about it myself."
With the Insurance Services Office meeting with Shattuck at the beginning of December, too, Waldron worries what the village's insurance rating will be. If the village gets a poor score, insurance rates could go up, he said.
Shattuck said he knew the Insurance Services Office was meeting with him, but he didn't know who they were and assumed "it had something to do with fire things. It will be a great chance for them to see what we've been doing," he added.