Council asks for alerts on water plant shutdowns; firefighting plans

By Karen Cornelius

The Utilities Committee of Vermilion City Council met on Monday, October 16, with chairman Barb Brady asking the service director for an explanation of what happened on Monday, October 2, when the water plant shutdown and there was a following boil alert. The bottom line was an ordinary procedure turned unexpectedly bad.


“We have heard a lot of stories,” said Brady. One was the Vermilion Fire Department was not notified of the shutdown. Service director Tony Valerius said he did apologize to the fire chief. “It was just overlooked,” said Valerius. He explained the shutdown was to test the new pipes installed on the westside of Main Street for bacteria. He said there should have been no major issues as this has been done before, but there was a 16-inch pipe with a valve that burst 1,000 feet from the water tower. Then, he said, it all went bad.


Brady asked that they email city council so they could answer questions from their constituents. “We get calls and we had no information. It would be good if we knew,” she said about the lacking communications. Valerius stated that he and the water superintendent just overlooked the heads up. “It should have been smooth. Brady said in addition to water plant alerts it would be helpful if they received emails on the current paving of roads so they could keep up. Council-at-large Monica Stark agreed and said she would like as much information as she could get, the more the better. She said they get calls and so do the police and fire departments who would appreciate it. “This reflects on the city as a whole.”


Councilman Fred Ostrander asked if there was a program to inspect the valves on pipes. Valerius responded that there is a valve exercise program. Police chief Chris Hartung commented that the Police Facebook page is working to be a city page with information. He said he does deal with these issues and tries to explain them. He said social media has an impact and he is trying to integrate this with the city.


Councilman Jim Forthofer asked how low or no water pressure impacts the fire department. Fire chief Chris Stempowski stated it does affect the department because they rely on water, it’s critic. However, they have a pre-plan with things in place to deal with the situation. They have mutual aid alarms and resources from different jurisdictions. As far as water, they have a fleet of apparatus where they can respond to a fire with engines holding 8,000-10,000 gallons of water to start. “We are fortunate.” There is also backup water with shuttle tankers from other jurisdictions that can suction water from ponds, the river, and fill the trucks. If there is water near the fire site, they can feed on site. He said if they are aware these plans go into place.


The fire chief said they found out Monday night the water plant was shutdown because they called to tell the plant they wanted to use a hydrant on West River and were told they could not do that. The chief said before any training exercise they do notify the water department for approval. They then drafted water into the engines as backup. Later, they got rid of the river water and got clean water.


Councilman Brian Holmes stated that in the future if they know of a shutoff they should probably notify the fire department.


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