Haggling likely to produce 11 hydrants for Lealman
If St. Petersburg, which supplies the water, approves, the county will pay $245,000 for the job.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published April 27, 2005

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LEALMAN - This unincorporated area would get new water lines and 11 fire hydrants under a proposed contract between St. Petersburg and the county.

The St. Petersburg council is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to give Mayor Rick Baker the authority to sign the agreement.

Under the proposal, Pinellas County would pay $245,000 to increase the size of water lines and install 11 hydrants. About 3,910 feet of pipes would be upgraded to 6 inches and another 3,850 feet to 8 inches. The pipes must be replaced for the hydrants to function. St. Petersburg employees would perform the work.

If passed, work would begin as soon as both sides sign the contract. It would be finished by Dec. 31. The hydrants would be installed between 49th and 54th avenues N and 34th and 40th streets N.

"Every time we get a new hydrant, it's a good thing," Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham said. "Keep up the good work."

It was long an open secret that Lealman had too few hydrants. Lealman and other fire departments that often service the area carry extra hoses to make up for the lack of hydrants.

But no progress was made toward getting the hydrants until a building at Town Apartments North burned on June 21, 2003. The blaze, which destroyed the building, left the mostly elderly residents homeless.

It was the spectre of firefighters from multiple jurisdictions struggling to find water to fight the blaze - the nearest hydrant was about 800 feet away - that caused officials to publicly acknowledge the safety problem.

A Pinellas County survey showed that the Lealman Fire District, which runs generally from just east of Interstate 275 to Park Street between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg, needed 160 hydrants.

Because St. Petersburg supplies the water to that area, the county said the city should put in the hydrants. But St. Petersburg said the county should because it is the governing agency for the unincorporated area.

Pinellas County paid St. Petersburg to install about 40 hydrants in 2003. Since then, the two have been arguing over who is responsible for the area.

While negotiations continued, the Lealman Fire District has seen 289 more fires. Sixty were at private homes, four at apartment complexes, one was at a hotel and one at a school. One person died and 17 civilians and five firefighters were injured in those blazes.

The lack of hydrants has hurt in many of those blazes, Graham said.

"We had one . . . right after the Town Apartments fire on the other side of the district (in which) we had to set up a water shuttle," the fire chief said. "That has been fairly common to our district."

In addition, the department has lost about $3,000 worth of fire hoses when people drive over them.

"It's typical if we have a big working fire to lose sections of hose," Graham said. "I know that costs some money. So that's why I say, any hydrant helps."

People in Lealman have become extremely conscious about the lack of hydrants, he said. Just after the Town Apartments fire, the department fielded calls from people who were terrified over the lack of hydrants.

"I can honestly say of the two issues that I think our citizens are most concerned about . . . the two issues they are hottest about are annexation and the fire hydrants," Graham said. "They want something done about it. They want the fire hydrants."

[Last modified April 27, 2005, 00:48:18]