Nearly 10 Percent Of Hydrants Don't Work, Union Says

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007

A stepped-up inspection of D.C. fire hydrants is finding that nearly 10 percent don't work, fire union officials said yesterday.

Firefighters doing the testing said they think that more than 900 hydrants across the city are not in working order, posing a significant public safety risk.

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority has greatly underestimated the severity of the problem, union leaders and other D.C. officials said. WASA, which is responsible for maintaining the city's 9,000 hydrants, has said it believes that less than 1 percent of them are out of service.

"Clearly, WASA has a much larger problem than what they realized," said Dan Dugan, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association.

The fire department's most recent round of tests began after a fire April 30 at the Georgetown public library. The two hydrants closest to the scene didn't work, and firefighters had to use other hydrants about two blocks away.

The tests from a sampling of hydrants across the city -- conducted May 7 through Tuesday -- found that 23 of 256 didn't work. The problems were found in neighborhoods across the city.

Those findings are consistent with more wide-scale testing that the fire department completed on its own initiative late last year. Of 1,072 hydrants tested, about 11 percent were not working. Fire officials said the testing was done out of concern that WASA wasn't acting quickly enough to test the hydrants and correct problems.

Even more disturbing, Dugan and other firefighters said, is that emergency workers often don't know that a hydrant is broken until they try to use it. "It slows down the operation," he said. "In our business, seconds count."

WASA officials continued yesterday to dispute the extent of the problem. They said they have already repaired some of the hydrants identified in the inspections. According to a list of broken hydrants that WASA distributes each week, just 38 hydrants across the District were not functional as of Monday.

"I can only talk about the ones we know to be out of service," said WASA General Manager Jerry N. Johnson. "When it's reported to us, we go out and check them."

Dugan and other firefighters also raised questions about how well WASA keeps track of hydrants. Firefighters last year discovered that about 125 hydrants that were not on WASA's automated mapping system.

Johnson said those hydrants could be on private property and not WASA's responsibility.

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