Councilwoman calling for change after CBS 6 investigation into city fire hydrants

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RICHMOND, Va. -- A recent CBS 6 Problem Solvers Investigation highlighted two separate Richmond house fires where firefighters dealt with fire hydrants that did not work. In the wake of our investigation, a city councilwoman is calling for change.

It all started on the night of March 8, when Richmond City Councilwoman Reva Trammell captured images of a burning home on Castlewood Road.

"If I hadn't been there on the scene, I would've never thought that anybody got out alive over there,” said Trammell, who is the chair of the Richmond Public Safety committee.

"It really. It really touched my heart,” she added.

Reva Trammell

Mamie Williams and her family managed to escape with their lives, but lost everything else.

All my memories of my kids… nine years growing up in the house. Everything was gone,” said Williams.

She wonders if her home would still be standing, if not for a huge problem that firefighters ran into.

Through dispatch audio posted on the Broadcastify website, firefighters described what they encountered.

“Twenty-two to the next company go ahead and lay in from Lamberts and Jeff Davis, this hydrant is dead.”

“Engine 21-B to 21-A, give me some water.”

Mamie Williams

"It was some chaos because it was like that fire hydrant down there did not work. They had to come all the way over there and hook up to this one and then hook up to that one,” said Trammell.

It was broken hydrant that Williams told CBS 6, she had reported before.

“A couple of times. A couple of neighbors had complained about it being out. Nobody responded to it,” said Williams.

One week later, there was a similar problem on Richmond’s Northside when fire engulfed a home on Rose Avenue.

“Seventeen to command, we’re having problems with hydrant for 15... No water,” officials said during dispatch audio.

“They were running around and they were looking and sounding really frustrated,” said Piet Jones, who lives across the street from the fire.

Firefighters managed to get water from a hydrant a block away, neighbors said. The home was destroyed during the fire.

“We have two fire hydrants on this block and if they’re not working, we’re all at risk,” said Jones.

Richmond’s fire hydrants are checked and maintained by the City’s Department of Public Utilities. So, CBS 6 filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Inspection and repair reports.

From January of 2015 to April of this year, DPU workers inspected over 6,000 hydrants.

More than 150 hydrants were marked out of service for various reasons, 44 were not working at all.

As chair of Richmond's Public safety committee, Trammell reviewed our findings, which also show that repairing a broken hydrant can take days, weeks, or in some cases several months.

"That's unacceptable. That is unacceptable," said Trammell.

DPU Director Robert Steidel told CBS 6 earlier this month that his department works hard to keep hydrants in good working order.

He admitted that it takes time to fix a broken one, depending on where it’s located.

"It’s going to be based on the workload of the water distribution system when that hydrant comes out of service,” Steidel explained. “How many more are around it? So, that gives them the intelligent decision to be able to batch their work to be able to go to the right place.”

Steidel said the city also has a 24 hour logistics center, that anyone can call report a broken hydrant.

For Trammell, the smart thing to do is to put the fire department in charge of the hydrants they use every day.

"Our firefighters will do a follow up and make sure that it got turned in. Make sure that it's working.  They can go back out there the next day or two days later and see if they have corrected the problem.  Not months later,” said Trammell.

"Working fire hydrants save lives. They save lives," she added.

Trammell said she will discuss the city’s fire hydrant inspection process with the fire chief and other officials at her next public safety meeting.

In the meantime, DPU officials have launched a program to have dedicated full time inspectors to reduce hydrant inspections from two years to one.

If you know of a hydrant that’s not working, you are asked to call 804-646-7000 and tell the city where it’s located.

CBS 6 News is working for you. Click here to email a tip to the CBS 6 Problem Solvers. Be sure to leave us your name, phone number and detailed description of the problem. You can also leave a message by calling 804-254-3672.

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