Bad hydrant triggers tests of more than 100

Failure of the '70s-era hydrant caused hoses to go dry for two minutes at a house fire.

Published August 10, 2007

TAMPA - A faulty hydrant did not critically delay firefighters from dousing a Tuesday blaze that destroyed a Northdale home, but it did cause an inspection Thursday of more than 100 other similar hydrants, Hillsborough County officials said.

"The delay was negligible for us," said Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley. "Maybe a minute or two at most."

Because firefighters knew there wasn't anyone left in the house, and adjacent properties weren't at risk, that kind of delay wasn't significant, Yeakley said. Under different circumstances, however, the hydrant's failure could have been disastrous, he said.

"In two minutes, if things had been different, the fire could have gotten away from them," he said.

The hydrant was manufactured in 1976 by Mueller Water Products. The county's water services division replaced it Wednesday and inspected it, concluding that it jammed because it lacked lubrication, said Pam Greene, a county spokeswoman.

There are about 100 other hydrants of the same model built between 1974 and 1976 that the county was inspecting Thursday. Work crews were operating the hydrants to determine if they worked. They would record the ones that failed.

At 3:28 p.m. on Tuesday, firefighters arrived to find a fire consuming a house on Bonne- ville Drive that had apparently been struck by lightning. Firefighters were pumping water drawn from six trucks carrying 1,000 gallons of water each, and another two trucks with 750 gallons of water.

But trucks can pump as much as 1,000 gallons a minute, so a steadier supply was needed. When firefighters tried to tap the Mueller hydrant 100 yards away from the fire, the cap "froze," denying access to the hydrant's water, Yeakley said, forcing them to tap a hydrant a street over and about 300 yards away.

Yeakley said firefighters went dry for no more than two minutes.

In June, the hydrant that failed Tuesday passed an inspection by a Lakeland company, Cropland Services. The county hired the company two years ago to inspect hydrants and has been paid about $185,000 out of a $229,000 contract that runs out at the end of September.

Greene said there have been no issues with the company and that the county is generally satisfied with its work. In a recent bid for the job, however, Cropland Services wasn't the lowest bidder, so the county is scheduled to hire another company for next year.

Representatives at Cropland Service's Lakeland office did not return phone calls.