Hydrant Used in D.C. Fire Was Mismarked

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When a fire engine connected to the hydrant in front of 2730 Chain Bridge Road the night of the fire at the home owned by former DC school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz, it was marked with blue plastic. That meant the DC Water & Sewer Authority (WASA) determined the hydrant can flow more than 1500 gallons-per-minute (gpm) of water. The hydrant, about four-tenths of a mile from the burned out home, actually flows a little more than 300 gpm.

Today the hydrant is marked in red, indicating it is at the lowest tier of a scale rating city hydrants by water flow, instead of at the highest level. WASA Spokesperson Michelle Quander Collins admits this was a case of human error, but she does not believe it indicates a systemic problem in WASA's hydrant testing program.

WASA is less than half-way through finding out the flow capabilities of the more than 10,000 hydrants across the city. The fire department uses the color codes to easily determine the best way to get a large amount of water to the scene of a fire.

A preliminary report released by Mayor Adrian Fenty on Friday indicates that a pumper hooked up to the hydrant to find a secondary water supply for firefighters struggling to combat the July 29 fire. The report does not state the hydrant was wrongly coded. DC Fire & EMS Department spokesperson Pete Piringer said on Tuesday that the wrong coding did not greatly impact the fighting of the fire.

The flow testing by WASA will be used as part of a computer database for the fire department. Piringer says the fire department concurs with WASA that the error appears to be an isolated incident and not an indication of larger problems.

According to Piringer. the fire department relies "and has a very high confidence in those markings".

Piringer says there are checks and balances already in place in the relationship between WASA and the fire department. He added, "I think we'll be a bit more tuned into this aspect because of this."

Republished with permission of WUSA-TV.