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Committee passes on to council order to flow-test Cincinnati fire hydrants

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Cincinnati's fire department and water department may soon need to develop a plan to test hydrants for water flow, but it's something the city should have been doing for years.

What prompted Monday’s action by the committee? Firefighters two weeks ago responded to a house fire in North Avondale. The hydrant in front of the home worked poorly, so they had to scramble to find one nearby that worked well.

Local 12 asked Cpt. Cory Deye to show us the Covington Fire Department’s system. It has been using “The Little Monster” for years. The device measures the amount of water coming from a hydrant. The fire department then color-codes each hydrant to show the flow. Red means less than 500 gallons per minute. Orange is 500 to 1,000 GPM. Green 1,000 to 1,500 GPM, and blue is more than 1,500 GPM. The color-coded data prevents the need to tap a hydrant to find out its flow.

“So we can get a pretty good idea by the striping on the hydrant,” said Deye.

Covington Fire goes a step further, though. It has a system in place called Active 911. There are iPads in each fire unit. You click on the address of the fire, and it shows where the fire hydrants are nearby and exactly what color code they are -- orange, red, blue or green -- and they will know exactly what the flow is before they get to the fire. It would have been great information for the Cincinnati Fire Department when it tried to fight that fire in North Avondale, perhaps saving them valuable minutes.

“Every 30 to 60 seconds, a fire free burns, a fire doubles in size,” Matt Alter, the president of Firefighters Local 48, testified Monday before the committee.

He told the city council members Local 48 has been lobbying since 2012 to flow-test hydrants. Local 12 reported after the North Avondale fire that the National Fire Protection Association recommends cities color code their hydrants, like Covington. We filed an open records request with Greater Cincinnati Water Works to find how long it’s been since it has flow-tested hydrants but have not received the information. And while the director of GCWW testified before the council committee Monday, she would not speak to us on camera. We asked Assistant Chief Sherman Smith from the Cincinnati Fire Department about GCWW’s lack of testing.

“It’s really not my position to say what should have happened,” said Smith. “I think they are very well engaged in the solution right now.”

He says it's best to look forward at solutions instead of pointing fingers, but we spoke to a woman who lives next door to the North Avondale home that burned. She appeared uncomfortable with that answer.

“It’s very concerning to hear that there are outdated, small, water lines throughout the city,” said Sarah Rich. “That many neighborhoods have been updated, but some neighborhoods have not.”

The Law and Public Safety Committee voted to pass on to the full council its recommendation to have the fire and water departments work together to form a plan for flow-testing. The council could take it up as early as this Wednesday.


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