Black hydrants causing concern

August 27, 2008 5:35:50 PM PDT
There's a safety concern for people in one Houston neighborhood about how fast firefighters would respond if there was a fire in one of the homes there. That's because every single fire hydrant in the neighborhood near the Beltway and Gessner has been painted black, made to look like it doesn't work. At the beginning of the year, a new law went into effect, placing certain requirements on fire hydrants. Out of fear they could be held liable for any malfunctioning hydrants, some water companies went to these extreme measures. You may be surprised to know that legally they can. So this legislation that was meant to help firefighters has ended up making their jobs much harder.

Black fire hydrants are on every corner in the Heron's Nest subdivision. In the neighborhoods immediately surrounding, it's same scenario. According to Texas law, a black hydrant means it's not functioning or pumps less than 250 gallons of water per minute. But the Cypress Creek assistant fire chief says these hydrants don't fall under those guidelines.

"We've tested some of the hydrants in this neighborhood and they flow well in excess of the 250 gallons per minute minimum requirement, so it's unknown to us exactly why the district chose to paint them black," said Assistant Fire Chief Richard Lieder.

The water provider, Aqua Texas, says their hydrants were never intended for fire protection and under state law, they don't have to provide for it. Over the phone, the president of the company told me they can't guarantee that all they're hydrants will produce at least 250 gallons per minute, so they were left with no choice but to paint them all, about 1,500 throughout the state, black.

"The legislation was initially enacted due to rural areas in Texas where they had water systems were incapable of providing 250 gallons per minute flow rates," said Lieder. "The intent was to identify those hydrants for firefighters so they would simply bypass them."

But if every single one is black, it's not only hard to see, but it's impossible to tell which one is working, creating delays for firefighters when every second counts.

"That's more time wasted on something that could be prevented," said resident Jerome Jones.

"I pass by them every day. You just figure it's a fire hydrant. It's supposed to work," added resident Gilbert Corbin.

The good news is the fire department knows these hydrants work, so they can use them, though before fighting a fire, they will have to take the time to check them just to make sure. The president of Aqua Texas says he understands the problems this has caused and is open to coming up with a solution to this legislation that will be good for everyone.

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