Amsterdam firefighters to help maintain city’s fire hydrants

A week after another major house fire burned freely while firefighters looked for a working fire hyd

A week after another major house fire burned freely while firefighters looked for a working fire hydrant, the city announced that the Fire Department will take more responsibility for maintaining the city’s hydrants.

The fire hydrant at the corner of First Avenue and Grant Street broke as crews tried to hook up to it while fighting a fire at 37 Grand St. on March 18.

Firefighters had entered the house but were called out when the crew realized they would have to search for sufficient water to fight the fire. Battalion Chief Peter McNamara said it was between 15 and 20 minutes before crews went back into the building. Firefighters had to use hydrants around the block on Park Street, at the end of Grand Street and on Locust Avenue to fight the fire.

By the time the flames were out, the house was extensively damaged and a family of five was homeless.

Officials attempted to quickly address the city’s hydrant problems after firefighters at the scene of two devastating fires last spring were hampered by malfunctioning hydrants. The situation was deemed an emergency, which allowed the city to use an outside contractor to replace roughly 30 hydrants that were found to be broken or malfunctioning. The matter bogged down in a dispute with a city employee union over who should do the work, though, and it wasn’t until this past winter that the contractor replaced 28 hydrants and 10 valves.

The head of the union said Wednesday that he will be raising a stink about this division of labor, too.

Tim Dufresne, president of AFSCMC Local 1614, the union representing the Department of Public Works workers, said anything having to do with the hydrants and water infrastructure is DPW’s responsibility and his workers should be doing the job.

“The Fire Department has never been involved,” he said.

But Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said he didn’t see how flow testing would be exclusive work to the DPW union. He said flow testing has never been done before except on sporadic occasions by private contractors and insurance companies.

Mayor Ann Thane’s new plan released Tuesday to address the city’s malfunctioning hydrants includes a program of flow testing conducted by the Fire Department, data collection and the use of Fire Department computer software.

Fire Chief Richard Liberti said the Department currently doesn’t test hydrant flow on a regular basis.

“We never have,” he said Wednesday.

Liberti said firefighters will be testing the flow coming out of each of the city’s 2,100 hydrants, record the data and pass it on to the city’s engineering firm, McDonald Engineering. The firm has an electronic model of the city’s water system.

Liberti said McDonald Engineering will be working with the city to develop a procedure for testing the hydrants and recording the data. He said the work would probably require additional equipment. The city has one meter to test hydrant flow, but Liberti said the department would probably need two more.

Firefighters will also have to go through a bit of training to learn the procedure adopted by McDonald Engineering.

Besides testing, the city will go back to an old practice of painting out-of-service hydrants rather than putting a bag over them.

In Thane’s report to the Common Council, she states that the Grand Street hydrant had worked in April 2009 when it was flushed, however it was hit by a vehicle, bagged to indicate it was out of service and reported as such to the Fire Department.

At the time of last Thursday’s fire, the bag was missing, so there was no way for firefighters on the scene to tell the hydrant was not working.

Liberti said painting the tops of the hydrant yellow if they are in service and red if they are not is a much easier way to tell if a hydrant is working.

The department will also be using a software system purchased with grant money from the Department of Homeland Security to help identify hydrants that are out of service.

The software, called Red Alert, is made up of different modules that can be customized to a municipality’s needs. One of the modules lists the city’s hydrants and can alert firefighters if a hydrant is out of service. However, Liberti said, the information is old and only lists 750 hydrants, many of which do not show up in the right place.

Liberti plans to create a “folder” for each of the city’s hydrants. The “folder” will include maintenance information about each of the city’s hydrants and will notify firefighters as they travel to a call if a hydrant nearby is out of service.

Aldermen commended Thane on her plan of attack, but said a plan should have been in place awhile ago.

“I really like her plan for the hydrants,” said Alderman Joseph Isabel, R-1st Ward. “It was well thought-out and should have been implemented a year ago.”

Alderwoman Gina DeRossi R-3rd Ward, said the plan should have been in place even before Thane’s administration. DeRossi said she is also looking into a grant program through the Department of Homeland Security that could help fund some of the city’s infrastructure needs.

Categories: Schenectady County

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