Monday, January 04, 2010

Brother, Can You Spare A Working Fire Hydrant?

There is more bone-chilling news in Indianapolis than just the cold air outside. Indianapolis firefighters arrived at the Texas Roadhouse on Shadeland Avenue to put out a fire that started in the restaurant's kitchen late last night. Unfortunately, firefighters could do little more than watch the business burn to the ground when they discovered that none of the three nearest fire hydrants were operable. "Firefighters were helpless when they first arrived," WTHR reports. "Three of the closest fire hydrants were frozen, delaying an attack on the blaze at a critical time." "We're going to do what we can to identify what happened with these hydrants and then go from there," said Paul Whitmore, Indianapolis Water. The water company told WTHR that the nearest water hydrant had been tampered with and not closed properly. Indianapolis Water could not explain why the other two fire hydrants were frozen.

I can already hear someone from the Ballard administration using this incident as the reason we need to raise water rates another 35%. This incident has nothing to do with how much money the City spends on the water company. The City pays more than $40 million a year to Veolia to operate and maintain the water system. It has borrowed more than $200 million in recent years to pay for infrastructure improvements neglected by the utility's previous owner. It has also awarded Veolia with millions of dollars in bonus payments despite the lack of demonstrable evidence that it did anything to earn those bonuses. All three water hydrants weren't working because nobody placed a priority on periodically testing fire hydrants to make sure they will work when firefighters need them. Oh well, at least the potholes are getting filled more quickly. Stop your complaining.

UPDATE: The Star's Tom Spalding asks some good questions in a story on the fire and the inoperable fire hydrants and found the answers "troubling." The City has no idea how many of its fire hydrants are currently operable. It takes 20 inspectors 8 to 9 months to inspect all of the City's 36,000 fire hydrants. The City has compiled a list of at least 100 fire hydrants that are broken, although none of the three in the area of the Texas Roadhouse fire was on the list. Several years ago, a retired civil engineer told me that the water pressure supporting many of the City's fire hydrants was so low in many parts of the City that if a major fire occurred, the fire department would be unable to pump enough water to effectively fight a major fire. As I recall, firefighters had difficulty fighting a fire at an eastside skating rink for that very reason a few years ago.

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