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Water authority to inspect hydrants

| Tuesday, May 2, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

The city is asking the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to assume inspections of the thousands of fire hydrants within city limits, relieving firefighters of a job they don't have time to do.

The authority owns and maintains nearly 8,000 hydrants in Pittsburgh, about 7,300 of them designated for firefighting, and some are up to 100 years old. But until now, firefighters were checking the hydrants when they could and reporting problems under an informal arrangement in place for more than a decade, officials said.

That will change soon, said Dick Skrinjar, spokesman for Mayor Bob O'Connor. The city intends to shift responsibility for inspecting hydrants to the authority because it's a public safety problem, he said.

"The firefighters' job is to fight fires, not inspect hydrants," Skrinjar said.

The authority's Executive Director Gregory Tutsock said he'll work with the mayor's office to make that happen, but it might mean the authority will need to hire people to perform inspections.

"We'll take over that responsibility, but we'll have to ramp up to do that," Tutsock said.

Fire Chief Mike Huss has said inspections shouldn't be his department's job. Firefighters have little time to perform them.

"I'll be honest with you, we don't get to every hydrant," Huss said. "Our goal is to get to every hydrant at least every two years."

The American Water Works Association recommends checking all municipal fire hydrants every two to five years, Tutsock said.

In 2005, firefighters inspected 747 hydrants. Last month, 18 of those 747 hydrants remained out of service, according to water authority records. The authority provided a list of 10 nonworking hydrants to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. But because neither the fire department nor the water authority checks all of them regularly, the number of nonworking hydrants across the city isn't known.

It can take a week or more to fix a hydrant, according to the authority.

Pittsburgh's other major water provider, Pennsylvania American Water, maintains and annually inspects its 1,242 fire hydrants in the city. Spokesman Phillip J. Cynar said none was out of order when contacted by the Trib. He said the company makes any necessary repairs within a day.

By contrast, the Columbus, Ohio, fire department inspects each of the city's 24,000 hydrants three or four times a year. About 45 hydrants were out of service last month, said Assistant Chief Doug Smith. Repairs generally take two to three days.

In Cleveland, the fire department checks the city's 18,200 hydrants twice a year. About 40 were out of service currently, a Cleveland fire official said.

When a hydrant isn't working, firefighters can string hoses to the next hydrant -- 20 feet to 1,000 feet away -- or they can use the 500-gallon water supply that each truck carries, which is enough for five minutes of adequate water pressure for a fire hose.

Either can slow firefighting efforts.

"The problem is, when we need it, we need it now," firefighter Michael Quinn said, as North Side Lt. Dale Schneider nodded agreement.

Additional Information:

Broken hydrants

Hydrants that Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority reported out of service in April:

  • Winthrop and Dithridge streets, Oakland

  • Brushton Avenue near Meade Street, Point Breeze

  • Butler and Baker streets, Morningside

  • North Sheridan Avenue and Grafton Street, Highland Park

  • Apple Street and Lincoln Avenue, Lincoln-Lemington

  • Penn Avenue and North Negley Avenue, East Liberty

  • Virginia Avenue and Olympia Street, Mt. Washington

  • Porterfield Street, North Side

  • Howard Street near Habit Street, North Side

  • Alpena and Dakota streets, Hill District

    The authority identifies an out-of-service hydrant by placing a ring or cone on it. To report a broken hydrant, call the authority at 412-255-2423.

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