Hydrant Flow a Problem for Pittsburgh Crews

Team 4 obtained records showing one out of every 10 hydrants in the city of Pittsburgh does not have enough water pressure to meet federal standards -- but it's not just a problem in the city.

(Salem Township, Oct. 11) -- This home in Westmoreland County burned out of control for two hours. The reason? Frustrated firefighters could not get enough water from the closest hydrant.

Assistant Chief David Mutnansky, Forbes Road Volunteer Fire Department: "The hydrant we have is a very low pressure hydrant. Usually, we can just flow water out of it down to the trucks. Now, we actually have to draft the water, suck it out of the hydrant. That's the major problem -- just getting water to the scene."

Luckily, no one was home at the time. After the fire, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County checked the hydrant and found it working. They don't know why the water wasn't flowing.

(Nov. 12, 2006) -- They also investigated this fire four years ago in McKeesport. A young family's home burned after firefighters could not get enough water from area hydrants.

Tammy Hayes' daughter and granddaughter lived in the house, next door to her own house.

Tammy Hayes: "They tried all three fire hydrants in the area, and not one worked. They couldn't get any pressure out of any of them."

Records obtained by Team 4 show this hydrant just a block from her house was pumping just 225 gallons of water per minute -- less than half the national standard of 500 gallons per minute.

Even worse, this hydrant just down the block from her house pumped just 200 gallons per minute.

Hayes: "They need to do something about it. There's a lot of houses up on this hill and they all could go up. And what are they going to do about it then?"

Team 4 took her concerns to the water authority.

Chris Kerr, Westmoreland Municipal Authority: "It is an area we are looking at upgrading, and we're trying to allocate money in next year's budget to improve."

But records show 20 percent of the McKeesport hydrants tested fail to meet federal standards. And the authority does not have the money to fix all of them.

As bad as some of those hydrants in McKeesport are, this one in Squirrel Hill is even worse -- 132 gallons per minute. That's just a quarter of the minimum flow required by federal standards. And it's right across the street from an elementary school.

When we told parents of kids going to Minadeo Elementary about the hydrant, they were shocked.

Jasonta Deen, parent: "If there's a fire and the hydrant isn't functioning properly, how are they going to get the fire out? That's a serious safety concern."

Team 4 took parents' concerns to the head of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority .

Van Osdol: "Is there a risk to having a really low flow hydrant by a school?"

Michael Kenney, PWSA Director: "If it was the only source, yes."

There are other hydrants near the school, but they have not been tested for water flow. In fact, only 40 percent of Pittsburgh's 7,300 hydrants have been tested.

Van Osdol: "Is it a concern that you have thousands of hydrants that haven't been flow-tested?"

Kenney: "Yes. It is a concern of mine. It's something we need to do."

These two across the street from Allegheny General Hospital have been tested, and both of them flow at less than a third of the minimum standard.

And both the hydrants on Carnegie Place in Point Breeze are less than half the minimum.

Miriam Gomez, resident: "Someone better do something about it. This is dangerous."

Van Osdol: "What can you say to people who, really, are frankly scared about a fire occurring in their house?"

Kenney: "That our goal is to be sure that every fire hydrant meets the current minimum."

The Allegheny County fire marshal says he's seen too many fires that raged out of control because firefighters could not get enough water.

Robert Full, Fire Marshal: "There are some hydrants out there in some of our communities we know right now that are so deteriorated that, even when you open them up, there's not much flow at all."

Like this one in Homewood. When Pittsburgh firefighters tested its flow...

Van Osdol: "What did you get?"

Lt. Varnell Lewis, Pittsburgh Fire Bureau: "Zero."

That's right, zero. The hydrant was so bad it did not even register. But at least firefighters know it's bad, so they won't waste time tapping it in a fire.

Van Osdol: "How important is it to have that information?"

Lewis: "Very important. Very important to know what you're working with. Very important. It's time, and time is precious in our business."

But most large water authorities in western Pennsylvania -- including West View Water, Wilkinsburg-Penn and Westmoreland -- do not routinely flow-test fire hydrants.

Van Osdol: "Is that something you'd like to see more of these water authorities do?"

Full: "Sure. Absolutely."

Records obtained by Team 4 show 95 percent of the Westmoreland Authority's 8,000 hydrants have never been flow-tested.

Van Osdol: "Isn't that important information for firefighters to have?"

Kerr: "What I would say to that is our performance with fire hydrants under those conditions has been excellent."

Tammy Hayes would disagree.

Hayes: "They should check them all the time. There should be some regulation that they have to test them every six months or every year or something. Make sure everything's in working order. Why are they there if they don't work?"

The Westmoreland authority tells me they can estimate hydrant water flows because they know the size of the pipe that runs to the hydrant. But the head of the Pittsburgh authority says that's not good enough for them. They want to flow-test every hydrant in the city every two years, and to do that, they've added staff.

If you have a bad hydrant in your neighborhood, press the water authority to fix it. And if your local hydrant has not been flow-tested, push the authority to test it.

Neighborhood Information: Check on your local hydrants

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority Fire Hydrant Flow Inspections Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County Flow Inspections

( NOTE: 500 gallons per minute is the minimum flow recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.)

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