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Cincinnati fire crews battled low water pressure at scene of deadly fire

Posted at 6:21 PM, Jan 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-22 21:47:13-05

CINCINNATI — Low water pressure at a Cincinnati fire hydrant became a problem for crews battling a deadly fire Tuesday. It wasn't the first time.

Tuesday's fire on Bowman Avenue in Lower Price Hill killed one person. Low water flow from the closest hydrant forced crews to look on State Avenue, the next street over, for enough water to put it out. When they found a better hydrant, they ran their hose through the woods and back to the scene.

Low water flow also complicated crews' efforts to extinguish a two-alarm fire in North Avondale in November.

The city is currently working on a plan to address the water pressure issue, officials said Wednesday. It comes down to knowing ahead of time which hydrants have low pressure and which don’t so crews are aware how much water is available.

Firefighters need to perform a flow test — a measurement of much water can flow out of a fire hydrant, and how quickly — to figure that out, and they need to log it in a central database for others' use.

In Covington, they've already started. After Covington firefighters perform each test, the data from the hydrant is put into an interactive app called Active 911.

“Having the knowledge at our fingertips, literally, takes some of the stress out of trying to memorize hydrants out in the city,” fire Capt. Richard McFarland said. “We always want to go with the largest hydrant that we can in the area.”

Tuesday’s fire in Lower Price Hill reinforced the need for a similar system in Cincinnati.

Local 48 president Matt Alter said inconsistencies in water flow don’t mean crews can’t fight fires effectively.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t do our job," he said. "However, in the case of the fire (Tuesday), these large-scale incidents require a large volume of water to get it contained and get it controlled."

The city of Cincinnati gave the department the go-ahead to test all 14,000 fire hydrants in December, but the tests require special equipment — flow tests are different than regularly scheduled maintenance tests.

The city, Water Works and CFD were still working Wednesday to build a plan and begin testing.

The City of Cincinnati provided a written statement in response to WCPO's request for comment:

“The first responding Cincinnati Fire Department company recognized the possibility of low pressure from the hydrant closest to the fire on Bowman Avenue on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. That company called for the later arriving engines to bring additional water and also relay water from State Avenue. There was no delay in service, and the fire was addressed without issue.

The City Administration is working with Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the CFD to purchase water flow testing equipment. The goal is to begin testing in the spring. The City will use that testing data to determine if it’s necessary to expediate any water main/service line replacements.

Cincinnati holds an ISO rating of 2 and is in the top 5 percent of cities in the State of Ohio.”