Tower 23 hydrant to be replaced

One fire chief’s concern about a lack of water to fight fires has brought awareness to the problem and may get some action. Pulaski Fire Chief Dean Graham first aired his concerns publicly in a city council meeting earlier this month.

RRWA Support Services Officer Marty Braster spoke with the Bloomfield Democrat last week and indicated that RRWA officials were more than willing to meet with county fire chiefs to discuss concerns. Officials are working to find a date the meeting can take place.

Graham was seeking help from the Pulaski City Council to purchase an additional water tanker truck to help haul water to fires. Graham cited a lack of access in rural areas and said that travel to and from existing water sources was too far to provide adequate fire protection to rural residents.

Published statements made by Graham sparked awareness and conversations with Rathbun Regional Water Association (RRWA) board members and officials.

Graham sparked interest with RRWA officials when he was quoted saying, “Rathbun (Rathbun Rural Water Association) is not maintaining their hydrants any more.” He even referenced an RRWA letter saying RRWA was “not in the business of fire protection.”

The letter Graham referred to was dated Feb. 9, 2018 and was signed by Tyler Havard, Mapping and GIS Technician. The letter read, “On behalf of Rathbun Regional Water Association (RRWA), please let me begin by expressing to you our appreciation for the service that you and your colleagues at the fire department perform. The purpose of this letter is to provide your department with the following updated information regarding access to water in RRWA’s system.” The first of four bullet points that followed read, “RRWA is a drinking water system, and not designed, operated, or maintained to provide water for fire protection.”

The following bullet points refer fire chiefs to obtaining water from designated hydrants located at towers in Davis County. A map was included of those access towers. An additional page listing operational procedures for those access points was also included.  

RRWA Support Services Officer Marty Braster spoke with the Bloomfield Democrat May 14 and stated that Graham’s statements were both right and wrong. Braster referenced the letter sent to Graham.

“Let me start by saying that rural fire protection is important to us,” he said. “The problem we have is that we can’t build a water system for fire protection. Our system is built and sized for drinking water. If we built our system to accommodate fire flows of water our system and mains would have to be much larger.”

Braster explained that in order to provide drinking water to customers, RRWA’s entire system must maintain an adequate level of chlorine to disinfect the water. “Our system is designed and built so that the chlorine levels will remain where they need to be. That’s how we keep the water safe for consumption,” he said.

Braster explained that if the system were built larger to accommodate fire flows, it would require them to build much later water mains. That also means larger amounts of water would be sitting in the pipes. “We have 7,000 miles of pipes and we must maintain that chlorine residual in the entire system. If we had larger pipes, we would have a larger amount of water sitting in our system and it would be much more difficult to maintain residual chlorine levels,” he said.

Braster did say RRWA does have four tower access points in Davis County for firefighters to draw water when needed. Tower 21 is located on Beechwood Avenue in west central Davis County just west of Bunch. The second tower is tower 26, which is located on the Bunch Road just west of the intersection with 180th Street. The third tower is tower 24, which is located in the Bloomfield Industrial Park. The fourth access point is tower 28, which is located on 215th Street just west of the Davis-Van Buren County line.

Rathbun did have a fifth access tower northeast of Bloomfield. Tower 23 is located near the intersection of 195th street and 200th Street. At some point, the hydrant was removed and a clean-out valve was installed.

“The only locations we want fire departments to draw water from is towers,” said Braster. “We also want to make sure they tell us when they are doing that so we don’t mistake that for a leak and mobilize staff to investigate and make repairs.

“We can’t allow fire departments to get water from valves used to flush out the lines. “If we do, it will drop the pressure and that will not only cause problems for customers in a loss of water pressure, but it will contaminate the system. That could also collapse the line if they attempt to pull water from it,” said Brasher. “The letter we sent to fire chiefs provides the map of available towers and also explains how to access the water safely to keep from contaminating the system.

“We don’t want fire departments pumping water with their trucks,” said Braster. “The pressure and gravity flow from the towers will be enough to fill those trucks and will keep from contaminating our system.”

After hearing concerns from Graham, The Bloomfield Democrat also discussed the matter with Bloomfield Fire Chief Jeff McClure. “I am very concerned about it,” said McClure. McClure provided information showing that residents living in the south half of Davis County have little to no water access points for firefighters to use.

McClure stated that fire hydrants used to be located at the junction of Highway 2 and Highway 63 west of Bloomfield. Hydrants also used to be available near Mark and Monterey. “None of those hydrants are there any more,” said McClure.

McClure did say there is a few “dry” hydrants located in various places around the county but said some of those were silted in and unusable. Dry hydrants are hydrants attached to a pipe that is installed in a farm pond.

“When we purchased our last tank truck, we were lucky. The townships told us to keep the truck we were replacing,” said McClure. The Bloomfield department has truck capacity of more 4,400 gallons of water they can haul to a fire when they roll out the door. Graham says Pulaski’s truck capacity is just 3,300 gallons.

That may sound like a lot of water. Firefighters can go through those capacities in just a matter of minutes, meaning water tankers need to keep rolling and from short distances to make sure water supplies are kept up to fight fires.

“The best way to do it is to set up port-a-tanks. Tankers dump and keep rolling so that the water supply can keep coming,” said McClure. “I can understand Dean’s concerns with the lack of water because there is absolutely no water access in the southeast quadrant of the county.”

Based on Braster’s map there isn’t any tower access south of 230th Street, which is the tower at the industrial park.  

RRWA seeks meeting

After hearing about some of the problems and concerns voiced by fire chiefs, Braster talked with the Bloomfield Democrat again on Friday, May 15 and provided some assurances that RRWA was taking action. “After discussing this, RRWA will be replacing the hydrant at tower 23,” said Braster.

Braster also offered to sit down with county fire department officials to discuss the matter. Braster offered to have local officials come to the RRWA treatment facility in Appanoose County so they could gain a better understanding of RRWA’s system and how it works. Braster also said RRWA officials were more than willing to discuss fire protection issues and wanted to schedule a meeting to find a solution for the county’s needs. “We want to sit down and talk about this and see if we address the concerns that are out there. It is in everyone’s best interest to make sure the fire protection needs are taken care of,” said Braster.