May 19--NIAGARA FALLS -- A few weeks ago, the Niagara Falls Fire Department's attempt to put out a blaze and save a Falls Street structure was hampered by a faulty fire hydrant.
Nobody was injured but the incident served as reminder of the dangers in battling fires without a reliable water source nearby.
"It really compromised firefighters' safety," Fire Chief William MacKay said. "We had firefighters in the building and we had to pull them out because we didn't have access to enough water."
MacKay said there are approximately 2,300 fire hydrants in the city, some more than 100 years old. Officially, only 72 are considered to be out of service and in need of repair by the Niagara Falls Water Board, which maintains the system. However, MacKay noted that's because the board's requirement for a working hydrant is much lower than what's needed to battle a fire.
"If any water comes out of a hydrant at all, the Water Board considers it working," MacKay said. "It has to be completely inoperable for them to consider it out of service."
Firefighters need to tap into hydrants that can pump out between at least 600 to 1,000 gallons of water per minute to effectively battle a blaze.
"There are dozens and dozens of fire hydrants that may function as far as the Water Board is concerned," MacKay said, "but are not acceptable for firefighters' use."
As an example, MacKay told the City Council earlier this week it would take a hydrant pumping 850 gallons of water each minute to save a 1,800-square-foot home from burning down.
"It is really imperative that the city partner with the Water Board (to address broken hydrants)," MacKay said.
Ron Anderluh, revitalization coordinator for the Niagara Street Business Association, echoed that warning and said he knows of three hydrants along Niagara Street between Hyde Park Boulevard and Portage Road that have been broken for two years.
"This is in a business district too," Anderluh said.
He suggested that councilmembers look into working with the Water Board to create a team charged only with identifying and fixing broken hydrants.
"There's got to be some type of plan," Anderluh said. "How are we going to protect the safety of our community when we can't even fix the fire hydrants?"
Water Board member Tom Vitello, who attended Monday's meeting, told the City Council he plans to bring up the subject of faulty hydrants for further discussion at today's Water Board worksession.