By Karen Cornelius
The Health and Safety Committee met on Monday, May 8, and asked Vermilion fire chief Chris Stempowski some questions about non-working fire hydrants and community safety. The issue of water usage also came up due to city council’s discussions on water leaks and water billing. The bottom line to all the discussion was the fact that the community’s safety is and always has been secure. It’s the fire department’s top priority and its pre-planning which serves the city well.
Councilman Jim Forthofer brought up the topic of hydrants stating he has had calls from residents about yellow capped hydrants which indicate they are not working and out of service. He said residents asked if they are safe if a nonfunctioning hydrant was in front of their home or nearby. The fire chief responded that he and service director Tony Valerius have a list of those with yellow caps and there are 28 out of service within the total hydrant count of 620. He said that’s about 4-1/2 percent which are out.
The chief assured residents that the department does pre-planning for safety and has the equipment to back it up. They have a tanker holding 3,000 gallons of water, and there are multiple engines with foam. If there is a structure fire, four engines respond, and based on the area there is mutual aid to respond. There are engines holding 1,000 gallons, too. For example, he said when the Elberta Inn was burning, there were eight trucks on scene. If a fire is in a rural area, there is water shuttling from ponds. “Yes, people are safe.”
“The key to safety is immediate notification,” said the chief. “Dial 911, get out of the house. Don’t hesitate and let the fire grow to become a huge problem.” He advised property owners need working smoke detectors, CO-2 detectors, and phones. People should also practice fire drills. “Don’t try to put the fire out yourselves. Don’t delay 911.” As an example, there was an incident when someone tried to use a garden hose to put a fire out which wasn’t working and the call came in late. “The first thing we do when we arrive is find out if anyone is inside,” said the chief. “Our biggest concern is their safety.”
Chief Stempowski said people have to know whether there’s a working hydrant, a non-working hydrant, or no hydrant at all, the department is pre-planning. He said they know the water lines, where to place the trucks, etc. In VOL, there are a lot of older, smaller 4-inch water lines so they go to Berkley or Edgewater for a better flow. “There are a lot of variables with fire hydrants.” Once again, everyone’s safety relies on early notification. “Their actions improve our actions.” He added that the fire department offers fire extinguisher training and will show people how to use them. However, if the fire is big, get out.
The chief said he would like to find a different way to identify nonworking hydrants and also prioritize where to start with the service director. Councilman Frank Loucka asked if they could sub out the work to fix hydrants. Service director Tony Valerius stated that the city distribution crew can do it, but it’s a three-year project because of the cost. They plan to change out six hydrants per year at $3,000 each and will prioritize. He said they have to scrap the old ones a few going back to 1914 and the 60’s and 70’s.
Councilman Fred Ostrander asked if they notify the water plant when they are responding to a fire due to the possible drop in pressure. The chief responded they notify the water plant and also advise them of water shuttle fill sites. They also notify Northern Ohio Rural Water of any water usage.
As far as water usage, the fire chief said he noticed council had some questions about the amount of water used by the department when they were discussing the future of the city’s water plant. He said work has been done to install meters and backflow to see their internal usage. As far as external, they have started documenting it and with six structure fires, 5 large wood brush fires, a large wood pile fire, and training exercises, they used approximately 40,000 gallons for fire suppression. “We can justify our water usage.”
Councilman Ostrander said he wanted to clarify that this is not considered wasted water/leaks, it’s water that just isn’t billed. “It’s not in the billing cycle,” said Ostrander. “It’s used for a good purpose.”