NY water board addresses long-time disrepair of fire hydrants

Out of 2,200 fire hydrants in Niagara Falls, 152 of them did not work, some of which were out of service for years

By Rick Pfeiffer
The Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — It's getting better.

But when Nick Forester first walked through the doors of the Niagara Falls Water Board he was stunned by the disrepair of the city's water system.

"The prior regime, they didn't care, they just didn't care," Forester said, his voice rising in exasperation.

And, as the son of a former Niagara Falls fire chief, nothing shocked him more than the number of out-of-service fire hydrants in neighborhoods across the Falls.

"There are more than 2,200 fire hydrants in the city," Forester said. "In February, 152 of them were out of service. And some of them have been out-of-service for years."

One of the worst examples of neglect was at the corner of 10th Street and Lockport Road. Located in proximity to a school and a library, water authority employees said the hydrant had been out-of-service for 18 years.

"This isn't a new problem," Falls Fire Chief Tom Colangelo said when asked about the large number of non-working fire hydrants. "It's been like this for 30 years."

So Forester says he asked Colangelo to come speak to the water board and make a plea for improvements.

"We needed to address this public safety issue," Forester said. "I (told Colangelo), 'This just can't be.' and I told him we would be aggressive in addressing it."

The water authority started with the hydrant at 10th Street and Lockport Road. With the city already tearing up the road to repave it, the water authority was able to take out the old hydrant and replace it with a new one.

That was just the start. Next, was a truck and crew, dedicated on a daily basis, to testing all of the city's fire hydrants to determine which ones work, how well they work and if they need repair or replacement.

"There was no preventive maintenance before," Forester said. "So now we're going out and testing for flow and passing that information on to (the fire department)."

The testing identifies if a hydrant is operational and whether it has high or low pressure. Crews also test the hydrant values, which Forester says is a key to proper maintenance.

"We have to work the hydrants and work the values at least once a year," he said. "The valves can snap if you're not doing yearly maintenance."

Information on which hydrants are working and which are out-of-service is a critical component in the new management systems now in service on the city's fire and ladder trucks. As firefighters approach a call now, they can look at a map that shows the status of all the nearby hydrants.

"That's what's important," Colangelo said. "If I know where a hydrant is bad we can work around it."

And the new concentration on working hydrants could pay other dividends for city residents. The availability of working hydrants in residential and business areas is a factor that insurance companies use to determine homeowner's and business insurance rates.

The new focus on bringing fire hydrants back on line has paid dividends with the number of out-of-service hydrants now down to 62.

"Public safety is at the forefront now," Forester said. "We have to ensure that when fire rolls up to a hydrant, it's a good one."

Copyright 2017 The Niagara Gazette

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