McKeesport re-evaluates hydrants in wake of blaze

| Monday, April 8, 2013, 10:18 a.m.

A fire that reduced one McKeesport home to rubble and spread to three neighboring structures has prompted the city's fire department to re-evaluate its hydrant system.

Concerns stemming from a March 26 blaze along Banker Street in the city's Grandview neighborhood were shared during last week's council meeting, when vice president Dale McCall asked fire Chief Kevin Lust to describe factors that led to such damage.

“It was a home that was fully engulfed,” Lust said. “We had to make the decision to put out the exposures first.”

Firefighters were challenged when hydrants fed by 4-inch water lines did not provide enough water to handle the blaze they encountered.

“We have a gravity-fed system,” Mayor Micheal Cherepko said, explaining that problems arise when working in a hilltop neighborhood such as Grandview. “The hydrants themselves had the pressure, but when we tapped into the 4-inch lines there ended up not being enough volume.”

Tapping several hydrants put further strain on an already taxed system, Cherepko said.

Firefighters accessed an 8-inch line via a hydrant at the corner of Grandview Avenue and Orchard Street. They used a tanker to transport that water to the fire scene, several blocks away.

Lust and Cherepko met with representatives of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, the city's water provider, to review the color-coding system and write a map for the fire department's records.

In McKeesport, hydrants connected to 12-inch lines are green, hydrants connected to 8-inch lines are orange, and hydrants connected to 4-inch lines are red.

“We're not going to take any chances,” Cherepko told council. “We're now going to tap directly into those 8-inch lines. That area is safe.”

Lust will meet with Westmoreland representatives this week to discuss the addition of hydrants in areas that may be lacking. Hydrants recently were added at McCarrell and Olympia streets, and more will be added along Allison Street.

The March 26 fire's starting point at 2507 Banker St. may have been lost so quickly because of its wood frame construction, officials said.

“The original home that was on fire wasn't very large, but it was a straight wooden home,” Cherepko said. “By the time the fire department got there, it was totally engulfed and the 4-inch line wasn't enough to fight that.”

Lust said he doesn't want residents to think that the response time was particularly long, but there were other issues that led to delays.

“Everybody thinks the response time was long. It wasn't,” Lust said. “If I may say, the biggest problem in that area is illegal parking. People park in front of fire hydrants. People park right on the corners.”

Lust applauded his drivers for getting trucks on scene with minimal damage, only scratching the engine by scraping one vehicle on a turn.

“Then other people who wanted to come see the fire parked in the middle of the road,” Lust said. “I'm trying to get another tanker truck in and they can't make it, especially when you're getting mutual aid from (departments) who might not know your streets.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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