Heated debate over fire hydrants has begun

By Morgan Chesky - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

FLINT, TX (KLTV) - Just a day after another house-fire, tempers are heating up in one East Texas county. Monday night, we told you about the fire which started in a home's kitchen on Frederick Circle near Flint then shot through the roof. Well, as soon as the story ran, we were flooded with e-mails and phone calls, complaining about the lack of water available from nearby fire hydrants. However, Smith County fire officials say the problem with the water flow Monday night was not with the hydrants; rather, an individual tampering with a hydrant. Still, that explanation has not stopped residents with black fire hydrants from seeing red. The flames have been extinguished but the fiery debate has just begun.

"It's frustrating because we get calls from the public all the time," said Marilynn Wilson, assistant Smith County fire marshal.

"These are the only black ones I've ever seen," said Joe Lanthier, a neighbor.

In rural areas, classified as anywhere outside the city limits, black fire hydrants can be found and, as we discovered, color is far from the only difference.

"The fire departments don't have the personnel and the utility companies don't find that it's their problem to do because they're in the business to sell water and not fight fires," said Wilson.

The differences began two years ago with the passing of the Texas Rural Water Law saying "an entity responsible for providing fire suppression services in a fire emergency would expect a fire hydrant to typically be located shall paint the device black if the device is nonfunctioning." But, when success of fire fighting depends on the functioning of the hydrant, fire authorities have a problem.

"The intent of the law is we cannot guarantee that this hydrant will flush at least 250 gallons of water per minute so rather than the utility companies going out and maintaining these which they would have to do at all times 24/7 rather than doing that, they just painted them all black in all the rural communities," said Wilson.

"It shouldn't matter where you house is," said Lanthier. "If there is a community in which there are installed fire hydrants, they should be operable at a pressure consistent with the fire department's need to extinguish a fire."

Since those in rural areas are often without reliable fire hydrants, Smith County fire authorities say you can take steps to protect yourself. Installing a residential sprinkler system or a dry hydrant running to nearby lakes or ponds can give you access to water when your family and home may need it most.

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