The safety of city fire hydrants was called into question after an incident that happened this past weekend as firefighters were battling a blaze on Padre Island.
Jonathan Chism, a firefighter helping to fight a storage fire Sunday was trying to hook up a line to a hydrant on Palmira Avenue when something unexpected happened.
As he was turning the valve to open it, the bolts on top blew off, shooting water about 40 feet in the are, and leaving just one bolt to hold down the cap. That bolt ultimately saved the firefighter's life.
"We look back on it, you realize how close it was, and how close it could have gone seriously wrong," Chism said.
The gushing water washed away sand underneath the hydrant, creating a sinkhole and causing a nearby fire truck to sink into the roadway.
While it was an isolated incident, it did call into question whether or not the City is doing enough to maintain its fire hydrants.
"The maintenance of fire hydrants is a combined effort of the fire department and the water department," Firefighter Union President Carlos Torres said.
Each fire station has a designated area that they monitor. They are in charge of maintaining each hydrant in that area, and maintenance takes place once a year.
"The fire department takes care of the regular routine maintenance, as far as lubing, greasing, oiling and making sure they work," Battalion Chief Doug Matthijetz said. "If they don't work, we transfer that to the water department."
The water department is in charge of making repairs to the hydrants.
"Some hydrants out on the Island might require more maintenance because of the salt air in the location," Matthijetz said.
3News found one hydrant on the Island that was in major disrepair. One of its bolts crumbled off just at a touch. It turns out, the faulty fire hydrant that caused issues this weekend was last tested in May of 2012.
"If a hydrant does not work at a fire, everything pretty much falls apart," Torres said.
Firefighters have their work cut out for them. There are around 10,000 fire hydrants in the city, and with the number of calls they receive on a daily basis, they said they simply do not always have the time to check them all.
That fact begs the question -- should the City have a more efficient fire hydrant maintenance plan in place?
Councilwoman Colleen McIntyre, who represents Padre Island, met 3News at the rusted fire hydrant with the crumbled bolt.
"There will definitely be attention on this in the next couple of weeks," McIntyre said. "There have already been several conversations on this. It really needs to happen. Thank God no one was hurt, and no property was lost in bringing this call to our attention."
McIntyre recognizes that there are special elements like the salt in the air that does cause elements to rust faster on the Island. She said there is a need to look at the maintenance cycle of the hydrants, and said she has asked the fire chief and the assistant city manager to look at the issue. She added that it should be a joint responsibility between the fire department and the water department to inspect the hydrants.
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