By Anna Lempereur
The Suffolk County Water Authority has launched an investigation to determine why two of its fire hydrants were frozen when Brentwood firefighters responded to a house fire last month but were unable to extract water to extinguish the blaze.
The inoperable hydrants impeded members of the Brentwood Fire Department, who had arrived at a Brentwood residence about 7:30 a.m. Jan. 31, 2009 to battle a house fire, according to Rick Belyea, the department’s spokesman. Belyea says that although torches were installed on hydrants at the scene to help rectify any pressure issue in the event they were definitively frozen solid, firefighters were unable to retrieve water, and instead, located working hydrants nearby.
Despite the problem, none of the nine residents who escaped the inferno were harmed, he adds, with the cause of the fire unknown.
“They don’t think it’s suspicious,” Belyea says of the blaze. “It’s going to take awhile for them to go through the house to determine the final cause. It’s a tedious process.”
The hydrants in question were inherited by the Suffolk Water Authority after it took over the Brentwood Water District in 2000, Belyea explains, and were investigated on Jan. 4. In that inspection, one was noted as fine, and the other was operational, but draining slowly, he says. A prior investigation took place in August 2009.
The spouts are now the subjects of an investigation by the water authority to determine what caused them to freeze, according to Paddy South, the water authority’s spokesman.
“Since we didn’t install those hydrants, we have since launched a forensic investigation to excavate around both the hydrants to make sure they were installed properly and there was proper drainage material to put around them,” he says. “We have also reached out to our hydrant contractor.”
The contractor uses four bags of gravel per hydrant to prevent freezing, since their surroundings are particularly sandy, South adds.
Although the Suffolk Water Authority has received reports of frozen hydrants in the past, they all appeared operable, he explains—making this the first time it has been an issue.
“We have a very diligent inspection program,” South says. “We are very proactive about making sure they [hydrants] are in good working conditions.”
The ongoing investigation will also determine whether any of the past inspections showed any signs of frozen or low water pressure, explains Belyea, with the cause of the problem hopefully identified shortly.
“They’re going to check the most recent inspections and see if there are any reports of them being partially frozen or frozen,” he says. “They want to be 100-percent sure before they make a final determination.”
The Suffolk County Water Authority has more than 36,000 hydrants in its system, which are inspected at least every eight to 10 months, according to South.