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Petersburg firefighters struggle with hydrant, question safety of others

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PETERSBURG, Va. -- On Friday night, retired Petersburg Fire Captain Jim Tash spotted firefighters having trouble with a hydrant, and made a discovery that he called dangerous.

"There were two guys pulling on a hydrant wrench," Tash explained.

Tash watched as they tried to remove the steamer connection.

"Actually stood on the fire hydrant and jumped two or three times on the wrench and it finally broke loose," Tash said.

The problems didn't stop there.

Tash said that while the hose was being threaded, another firefighter began trying to open the stem on top.

"It wouldn't move and so once again, two of them got on it, one pushing and one pulling and finally after a struggle, it finally opened up," Tash said.

If it didn't open, there would be no water coming from the hydrant and firefighters would have to look for an alternate source.

Tash said the situation could have been dangerous.

"Every hydrant should be operational," said Division Chief Mark Milazzo, with Petersburg Fire.

The veteran firefighter with 35 years in fire service said from 1981 through 1999 the fire department maintained the hydrants.

"The goal was to exercise every hydrant in the city, to make sure they open and close, that they were flowing and to record the flow rates of each hydrant," Milazzo said.

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Fire hydrant maintenance, Milazzo said, changed in 2000 when the City's Public works took over the task.

The City currently has about 1,600 hydrants, and if you look at the ones along Oakland Street, you'll see they all look very similar, which some say is cause for concern.

"No water from the hydrant, they're in trouble," Tash said.

Milazzo confirmed firefighters did have problems with the hydrant in front of the home that was on fire on Oakland Street Friday night.

"Personnel finally got the hydrant operating," he said.

In a statement to CBS 6, the City said: "The fire hydrants near the 1700 block of Oakland Street were re-inspected today August 1, 2016 and both were functioning properly."

The statement also said the fire department did not file a work order for the hydrant.

"A request was not issued for the hydrants on the 1700 block of Oakland Street," it read.

Recently, the Insurance Services Office awarded Petersburg the second highest rating and their evaluation audit did not note any hydrant issues.

Still some express concerns about the conditions of the hydrants on Oakland Street and the surrounding area, noting the coupling and stem would not have been that hard to turn, if the hydrant had been properly maintained.