Broken hydrants leave firefighters high and dry

by: Erica Byfield Updated:

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If you live in an apartment or condo in metro Atlanta and a fire breaks out there is a chance firefighters might not have water to put it out.
 

A Channel 2 Action News investigation found some fire hydrants are dry and buildings are burning to the ground.
 
We also learned Georgia does not have a standard dictating how often public fire hydrants should be checked.
 
"Barely a trickle came out," said Dorothy Daren.
 
Daren lives at an East Point apartment complex and still remembers a massive fire from two years ago where a hydrant did not work.
 
Daren said the water from the hydrant looked, "Like a water fountain.” 
 
We went back through Channel Two Action News records and found 19 destructive apartment fires with hydrant malfunctions in the last five years; several involved dry hydrants.
 
Throughout the years, fire officials said, "When we tried to access the first hydrant it was dry," and, "We had to run additional lines to catch other hydrants."
 
The state Fire Marshal’s Office says Georgia requires annual inspections of private hydrants and the state does not have a standard for public hydrants. Two national organizations  suggest annual checks.
 
Hydrants are either public or private; the dividing line is just like a house, the property line.
 
Channel 2’s Erica Byfield found the rules for how often they should be checked vary depending on where the hydrant is.
 
In general, metro fire departments inspect public hydrants twice a year and ask private property owners to do annual checks.
 
Byfield discovered very few communities are making sure apartments and condos are maintaining their hydrants.
 
Over the course of a two-month investigation, Byfield spoke to countless fire officials; each one shared a similar message.
 
"Most firefighters that I know in their career at one time or another have tried to hook to private hydrant that didn't have water in it," said Jim Daws, the president of Professional firefighters of Georgia.
 
"I've had to stand more than a few times with a hose with no water coming out of it," said Wayne Hines, the president of the Fulton County Professional Firefighters.
 
Byfield sorted through data and couldn't find any agency that keeps track of how often firefighters encounter defective hydrants at a private apartment or condo complex fires.
 
Spokespeople for several metro water departments told Channel 2 Action News water departments handle repairs and work orders do not always list who found the problem.
 
A fire in February destroyed a 24-unit building at Eagles Run Apartments in DeKalb County.  Firefighters had to run hose all the way to Bouldercrest Road because of insufficient water pressure.
 
"No water. No water, and firemen standing around," someone who lost everything in the fire told us.
 
We wanted to know the last time some checked the hydrants.  Research revealed the Nurock Company based out of Alpharetta owns the complex. 
 
Byfield sent emails, made phone calls, and even drove to the last two known addresses we found on record; both offices were completely empty.
 
Not all communities are relying on apartment and condo owners to police themselves.
 
Fulton County Fire annually checks all their hydrants, public and private.
 
The City of Sandy Springs takes a different approach, they require apartments to get annual hydrant inspections to secure a business license. 
 
"We have 26 authorized and approved private hydrant contractors that they can choose from," Sandy Springs Assistant Fire Chief Daryl Smith said. 
 
Through a records request, Channel 2 learned that faulty hydrants are not confined to private property.
 
A fire destroyed a Haddon Hall Drive home in Gwinnett County. Kay Ludwig lives a few doors down.
 
"I wonder if it ever worked. How do we know if it ever worked?" she said.
 
Daws is convinced something must change.
 
"Once is too many when something could be done about it," he said.
 
The Insurance Services Organization, or ISO, rates fire departments suggests fire departments check hydrants annually. 



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