Richmond Fire Chief Sam Kirby expressed frustration on Monday over the total devastation of a large apartment complex due, in large part, to faulty fire hydrants.
According to the chief, those same fire hydrants have been inoperable since 2019, when firefighters with his department responded to the same apartment complex only to find the fire hydrants were inoperable.
These hydrants are supposed to be serviced by the Madison County Utility District, which on Monday, released a statement in regards to why the hydrants have not been repaired.
In an emailed statement to the Register from MCUD Public Information Officer Jud Patterson, he stated the two hydrants near the Richmond Manor Apartments are waiting to be repaired.
He did not give a timeline when repairs would take place, but stated short staffing was a factor in not being able to address the situation.
“Like everyone else, MCUD has suffered from a labor shortage, losing over half of its field staff in the last 18 months,” Patterson wrote on behalf of the utility company. “Identifying and repairing water leaks, correcting service interruptions and new service requests must all be handled, before repairs can be made to the hydrants. Madison County Utilities appreciates the importance of fire protection and prioritizes the repair of the hydrants as much as possible. Madison County Utilities will continue to work closely with the local fire departments to be sure they are aware of which hydrants may be used for fire protection and which hydrants are not available so they may respond appropriately in the future.”
However, these hydrants were faulty long before the MCUD's stated staffing shortages.
On September 30, 2019 another fire broke out at that same apartment complex and RFD was unable to douse the fire because of the hydrants being inoperable.
According to a previous Register article, at the time of that fire, Corey Lewis, the public education and information officer for the department, reported the difficulties were due to lack of access to water in that area from fire hydrants, as they are owned by the county water district, and not Richmond Utilities.
History repeated itself on Saturday as Kirby and his staff attempted to fight another large structure fire on North Third Street, which was the culmination of a hours-long stand-off between Logan Browning and Richmond police.
When responding to the call which left total devastation, Kirby said firefighters were unable to secure a source of water from nearby fire hydrants which are serviced by the Madison County Utility District.
After the closest hydrant failed to operate, the fire chief found another hydrant 50 yards away located behind a building next to the burning structure. That hydrant also failed, which Kirby said used up more precious time.
“We had a fire and we immediately were trying to find a hydrant that works,” Kirby recalled. “We did find one that put out water, but not near what a hydrant should put out and we did hook to that one but it did not provide a whole lot.”
RFD then had to call in other fire departments, both paid and volunteer, to transport more sources of water to the scene.
Madison County Fire Department handled the tanker shuttle operation, while RFD handled the fire fighting side of it, Kirby explained.
Other fire agencies which assisted in the emergency were Lexington Fire Department, Waco Volunteer Fire Department, White Hall Fire Department, Cartersville/Paint Lick Volunteer Fire Department, Red Lick Volunteer Fire Department and Union City Volunteer Fire Department, according to Richmond Police Chief Rodney Richardson.
“They supplied our trucks with the water tank and tankers shuttling in from water, and we still had trouble keeping up because we used so much water,” Kirby said of the situation.
“It is beyond frustrating to sit there and have to watch more damage be done, than what should have been done while you are trying to get water,” the chief said. “Our guys did an excellent job with what we were faced with. We started out behind the eight ball because we couldn't attack the fire until it was deemed safe by (the Richmond Police Department) and by that time, it was rolling out the first and second floor windows and the guy was still in there.
“We couldn't do anything until that scene was secured. We are trying to find hydrants that work and it was just really frustrating,” he said.
Typically, when a call comes out for a structure fire, RFD deploys every truck, so the second truck that arrives on scene will sit close to the nearest hydrant and wait to see if that hydrant may be needed or not.
While it was needed, the hydrants would not work and could not help fight the fire.
According to Patterson and MCUD, MCUD works with both the Madison County Fire Department and the Richmond Fire Department to inspect and service the hydrants. The fire departments inspect the hydrants and notify the utility which hydrants aren’t functioning properly. MCUD then makes any necessary repairs.
After the fire in 2019, Kirby said he spoke with the Madison County Utility District about the issue with the fire hydrants on , but was “much less judicial” this time.
“It was the same hydrant we had issues with the last time, and I don't know why it is not flowing as it should. I don't know if the main line is too small, or what the issue may be,” he said.
Kirby said, to his knowledge, MCUD is required to flow the hydrants yearly as part of an ISO safety requirement. RFD tests the hydrants every five years within the city and does so by sections. The fire department did conduct testing this year. However, Kirby said on Monday he feels the department will have to begin conducting the tests each year going forward, in order to make themselves more aware of what hydrants work, and which do not.
“We are probably going to have to test each year so our guys are knowledgeable about where hydrants that aren’t sufficient are. So we are not to pull up to those to use them,” Kirby said.
In reference to comments made on a Register article, some stated the fire department did not check hydrants in "the bad areas."
Kirby stated this was not the case.
"I want to make it clear that we test every hydrant, regardless of what area it is in. We don't skip areas because it is supposedly a "bad area."
The MCUD is not affiliated with the Madison County Fiscal Court and are a stand alone entity.