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Fire hydrant not working

THE PROBLEM The sole hydrant on a street has been out of service for more than six months.

THE BACKSTORY Roy L. Shover Sr. wrote an e-mail to "Watchdog" to prevent, as he put it, "a very possible tragic event." His mother lives on Unetta Street off Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore. Shover says that the hydrant on her block has had an "out of service" sign on it for at least half a year and that it's the only hydrant on that street. He found other hydrants in the neighborhood "quite a distance from her home."

"In the event of a fire at any of the homes I'm afraid that the results could be a disaster in the making," he wrote.

But Baltimore Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said that Shover did not need to be so concerned.

His mother's home was within 290 feet of a working hydrant at the corner of Wilkens and Unetta, meeting city guidelines that call for a working hydrant within 300 feet.

Firefighters inspect hydrants and put collars on those that need to be replaced. The repairs are entered into a tracking system for public works.

DPW personnel replaced the hydrant in question last week but despite the wording on the sign, this particular unit could have been employed in case of emergency, Kocher said. The hydrant's top had a leak, but "the Fire Department could have turned that on and used it," he said.

The hydrant also needed to be replaced because, if struck, it would take out the entire water line, Kocher said. Public works staff has been replacing these older units with "breakaway" hydrants over the last few years.

Baltimore has nearly 9,000 fire hydrants, Kocher said, and as of last week, 8,235 were in service and 15 replacements are waiting to be certified by fire officials. An additional 190 can be used but need repair, and 202 are out of order.

But how many are more than 300 feet from another working hydrant? Zero, Kocher said. None violates the 300 feet rule.

Even still, the spokesman said, Baltimore's system has many built-in redundancies because of its age, dating back at least 100 years when water pressure and firefighting equipment weren't as powerful.

The Fire Department has a console that shows which hydrants are out of service, Kocher said, but "it's very rare you're going to have a hydrant out and not have another one really close by."

WHO CAN FIX THIS James Patrick, water utility maintenance division. 410-396-7870. City residents should call 311 to report problems.

update
Stan Kluckowski, the Towson resident who worried about a tree growing at an angle over utility lines, said Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. personnel cut it down last week, well in advance of the end-of-first-quarter deadline that the company had promised.

need help?
Is there something in your neighborhood that's not getting fixed? Tell us where the problem is and how long it's been there by e-mailing watchdog@baltsun.com or calling 410-332-6735.


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