Damaged hydrant slowed but failed to hinder local firemen at apartment blaze

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor

A small dog eyes the repaired fire hydrant.
A small dog eyes the repaired fire hydrant.
A damaged fire hydrant, referred to as a dry barrel, may have slowed up Kings County firefighters when they arrived on the scene to fight an apartment fire on East Hanford Armona Road Sunday, May 18, but only barely as firemen quickly reconnected to a working hydrant. Sixteen apartments were destroyed in the mid-morning blaze and displaced a number of residents.

Lemoore police officers, as well as Kings County Sheriff’s Deputies, quickly evacuated tenants from the burning buildings as well as surrounding apartments.

The Kings County Fire Department was the first to respond to the fire, quickly followed by the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department. As they arrived on the scene, several apartments were already engulfed in fire.

County firemen quickly connected to one of four hydrants servicing the area and turned it on only to find it didn’t work. Unable to determine the cause of the failure, county firemen quickly disconnected and attached to another hydrant.

Lemoore City Manager Jeff Laws, at the Tuesday, May 20 city council meeting, said that apparently, over the course of time, someone damaged the hydrant, rendering it inoperable. He said it could have been done recently but city officials simply don’t know.

“We looked into it,” said Laws in responding to a question about the hydrant from Councilmember Eddie Neal.  “We know exactly… when they pulled up to the fire hydrant it was on the apartment property. The fire hydrant had recently been painted red, the curb had been painted red. Someone had hit that hydrant at one time. It is called a dry barrel hydrant so when someone hits it some plunger or something goes down and no water comes out.”

He went on to say that nobody knows who struck the hydrant and initially surmised that the faulty hydrant may have been a city issue.  “We investigated it and we’ve taken no police action. No accident reports were ever taken. Someone hit that hydrant and no water came out. They considered themselves lucky. They took off and that was what we were left with that day and the fire department still did a wonderful job. And it’s being fixed right now”

Dry barrel hydrants were used in Lemoore as recently as the 1980s and before, when the Tanglewood Apartments were first constructed. The city now uses a more modern wet bell hydrant that when bumped or damaged will gush water, clearly indicating a problem, unlike the dry barrel hydrant.

Kings County Fire Marshall Rick Smith, who was at the apartment fire last week, but was not there when county firemen tried hooking up to the faulty hydrant, said that while a bad hydrant may have delayed firemen, county and city firefighters are trained to prepare for such circumstances. For example he said county engines always carry about 2,000 gallons of water in case there are no hydrants available.

“We can fight a fire for a good period of time before we had to seek an alternative,” said Smith. “We don’t skip a beat. We train for that. We need to be prepared.”

Smith isn’t sure there were any ramifications in this case since there were other hydrants available. “I don’t think it would not have made much of a difference,” said Smith. “However, it has the potential (to be a problem) certainly.”

Lemoore Fire Chief John Gibson said it did concern him that the hydrant in question didn’t work. “It always concerns me when a hydrant’s not working,” he said. “That’s a couple of minutes you’ve invested” while attempting to hook up to a hydrant.

Like the county, the city inspects most of its hydrants on an annual basis and keeps records of inspections. However, the city currently has 1,600 to 1,700 fire hydrants, and between the fire department and water department, all are inspected on a regular basis.

“We have plenty of hydrants in town,” said Gibson. In the case of the Tanglewood fire, there were three others available close by. In fact, he said in many place in Lemoore they’re spaced about 300 feet from each other. In addition to the county engines having water, the city fire engines do as well, but not quite as much.

Lemoore Volunteer firefighters and county fire fighters fought the destructive blaze for about six hours and kept it from spreading to adjacent apartment buildings. Two tenants were treated on the scene for minor injuries. A Lemoore police officer suffered from smoke inhalation. He was treated and released from the hospital. A fire fighter had a minor injury and was treated at the scene.

The American Red Cross responded to the scene. The Lemoore Lions Club recently accepted donations for displaced persons and joined with Lemoore Christian Aide to help provide relief for displaced residents of the apartment complex.

Comments powered by Disqus