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City may measure water flow in all 14,000 fire hydrants as safety precaution

Low flow caused problem at fire last month
Posted at 4:09 PM, Dec 10, 2019

CINCINNATI — A house fire burned for six hours last month and the fire hydrant problem that allowed that to happen has raised concern for the safety of residents and firefighters.

Low water flow made it difficult for crews to put out the fire in North Avondale. Now the fire department is pushing to make sure they know what to expect when responding to a call.

Sarah Rich, who lives next door to the house that burned on Rosehill Avenue, said she heard several neighbors lost their homes because the fire couldn't be put down quickly.

“It’s pretty terrifying to watch a fire burn 15 feet from your home for six hours with your family sleeping inside,” said Rich. “We were told that we were very lucky our home wasn’t a few feet closer, and very lucky that it wasn’t a windy night."

“We were unsuccessful in having enough volume to fight the fire, basically,” said Assistant Fire Chief Sherman Smith.

The problem wasn't just low water pressure, it was not knowing that before crews got to the fire.

“We did not have enough water in that area, but the problem was that we did not know that ahead of time,” said Assistant Fire Chief Anson Turley.

“The reality is with 14,000 hydrants and then just a vast network of underground pipes and all these things, we don’t know all that," said Matt Alter, president of Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48. "The hydrant is a tool for us to use.”

"So how do we solve this?” Turley said.

The city is looking to take action.

City Council could vote Wednesday to allow the fire department and Cincinnati Water Works to test and measure the water flow of all 14,000 fire hydrants in the city.

Once collected, the information would be given to all crews so they know what resources they have before arriving on scene.

“It will allow them to potentially change their tactics and or strategies when going to fight these fires,” said Alter.

Crews battling the Rosehill Avenue fire were able to pull water from a second water main in the area, but those seconds lost finding more water can come with a cost,

“Fires where they double in size every 30 to 60 seconds, spending 5, 6, 7, 8 minutes to find another source of water certainly has an impact on damage,” Alter said.

Rich wasn't just concerned for her family and her neighbors but for firefighters, too.

“The firemen and women fighting that fire … It’s unacceptable to put our public servants in danger like that,” Rich said.