400 fire hydrants had defects in the Columbia area this July

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 8:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - 402 fire hydrants in the Columbia area had some form of defect as of late July.

Data obtained by WIS shows the hydrants had problems with parts, water pressure, and leaking, but the predominant problem was their vulnerability to car crashes.

Columbia data shows at least 121 hydrants had been damaged by a car as of July 26, 2023.

Here’s an interactive map of where the hydrants can be found:

Columbia Water oversees the fire hydrant system (comprised of approximately 17,216 hydrants). The 402 hydrants make up 2.3 percent of the system.

A spokesperson declined an interview request but responded to questions via email, the response reading in part:

The vast majority of fire hydrants are ready for use, and fire hydrant spacing in the service area is such that redundant fire hydrants are available for public fire protection should a particular fire hydrant need repair.

Outside of car crashes, the data shows broken stems and stiff stems were the most significant issues with the hydrants.

The spokesperson defined them as follows:

The central shaft that opens and closes the fire hydrant is often called a stem. “Broken Stem” indicates this shaft is inoperable. “Stiff Stem” indicates that the shaft is not easy to use, but will still operate.

The data shows the city had been aware of at least one of the hydrant’s defects dating back to 2015, but the vast majority of the defects had been present since 2021. The spokesperson says the utility “makes efficient use” of its staff and contractors to fix the hydrants in a timely manner.

The City of Columbia is facing a lawsuit over an allegation of a non-functioning hydrant at a significant Irmo apartment fire in 2021.

PIImageDisplay (3) by T R on Scribd

The Westchester Surplus Lines Insurance Company filed the suit, alleging firefighters found a “dead hydrant’ and had trouble receiving the necessary water flow from other hydrants within the property, which led to the spread of the fire.”

The company is seeking $4.9 million as a result of the damages.

In a legal response, the city denied the claims about the hydrants.

Tyquan Hazel lives in the apartment complex that was damaged by the fire and expressed concern about the data.

“It’s very alarming, it grows concern for people who have families and things of that nature,” he said.

Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld said nonfunctional hydrant can significantly impact fire responses, but it’s rare.

“We do have a system in place, we understand the mechanical devices that were put back in the ground, back in the 60s around here, so, you better be prepared for that kind of thing to happen, it’s not an excuse, but I don’t control the infrastructure of what was built around here.”

He said fire hydrants were an issue in times past, but the system has improved.

“When one goes down, it’s a huge logistics issue that costs time and manpower,” he said.

In the aftermath of Irmo Firefighter James Muller’s death, the Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina released a letter alleging in part the hydrant closest to the building was “out of service.”

Sonehydrantsfeld acknowledged there was some delay working with that hydrant, but in his professional opinion, it would have changed the outcome of that day.

“Not as much fire flow, but at worst I think it was maybe a small delay and a volume of water, I don’t know if it impeded anything,” he said.

The fire is still under investigation by the ATF and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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