Faulty hydrants continue to cause problems for firefighters

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Frozen or faulty hydrants slowed firefighters Wednesday at two different locations. Eyewitness News uncovered the troubling safety concern earlier this month.

Just before noon, the Indianapolis Fire Department was called to put out a fire at a vacant two-story house in the 500 block of North Keystone Ave. The closest water hydrant worked, but the next closest at Tacoma Ave. and Michigan St. did not.

The hydrant fell apart as workers from the water company tried to fix it. It was not frozen but had other weather-related issues, including water inside it that had to be pumped out. Citizens Water responded and bagged the hydrant after attempting a fix.

No injuries were reported in that fire, but when seconds count, a malfunctioning hydrant could have a significant impact on firefighters' efforts. It took about half an hour to put out the fire using one hydrant.

"We are starting to replace a lot of them," said Mike Elliot, Citizens Water. He also says all of the city's 38,000 hydrants get inspected annually.

Every time the fire department uses a water hydrant, someone from the water company is there to make sure the it is closed properly.

Even with an annual inspection, there are problems. One of the broken hydrants discovered Wednesday had to be dismantled bolt by bolt. The bearings on the top of the hydrants were frozen. After about 45 minutes, workers tested the hydrant but found another broken part, so the hydrant was bagged and taken out of service.

Wednesday morning, IFD was sent to 16th Street for another fire. The temperature was well below freezing, and the extreme cold caused problems with the hydrant. It was not frozen but a combination of an older hydrant and cold temperatures hampered firefighters' efforts to get water quickly.

"We just do a whole more replacements and put a real big emphasis on making sure the hydrants are working like they should," said Elliot.

Citizens Water says it's continually checking hydrants to make sure they are not frozen, and it's in the midst of a program to change out aging hydrants.

Ongoing problem

Hundreds of companies rent meters from the water company and pay for what they use from hydrants. Contractors that are using hydrants must use those marked with a dark blue cap.

But if the water is not shut off completely, the hydrant can freeze. That means it's useless to firefighters in situations where every minute counts.

When the Texas Roadhouse restaurant on North Shadeland Avenue burned to the ground, all the fire hydrants within four blocks were frozen. The owner of Texas Roadhouse sued the water company, claiming that the hydrants froze because of misuse. The water company won the lawsuit, but has designated 75 hydrants for use by contractors. They own and maintain more than 37,000 hydrants.